Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year, New Recipe: Chestnut Soup/ Zuppa di Castagna

I must say I think I'm really starting to embrace the Italian ways. Why is that you ask? Because here it is the 10th of January and I'm just now getting back into the swing of my blog on the same day as when the majority of Italians are back to school and work. I'm kind of liking that La Befana (January 6th) and the bridge thing that makes the Christmas holiday stretch out to finish after the weekend following the Thursday Epiphany holiday. Confused? I don't blame you. Suffice to say that the festival of lights, winter solstice, Christmas, New Years, Epiphany and  all of the darkest of  winter holidays are now officially over and I'm joining in the Italians "back to work" today with a new post on my blog. Aren't you glad you asked?
This year I am planning a makeover on BBV to make it easier to find past posts that hopefully I'll be able to split up into various categories for your reading pleasure. Thanks for stopping by. Do feel free to leave a comment or two as I look forward to hearing from you as that is one of the best parts of having a blog, the people that stop by.

Today I'm sharing a recipe for another hearty winter soup, Zuppa di Castagna or Chestnut soup. I will be the first one to admit that it perhaps isn't the most attractive of soups to the eye, but you can dress it up with some sour cream, yogurt, leek and bacon toppings to kick up the eye appeal. I would say it is an intriguing mixture of flavors that when I tasted it at the Martini and Rossi museum's inauguration of the Strada Reale Dei Vini Torinesi, I was immediately intrigued and determined to either find a recipe or recreate the dish myself. I have gone the recreating it myself route, as I find that with much of our cuisine here in Piedmont, many of the recipes are not written down. With a few tries, and some inspiration from some similar recipes around the Internet, I think I have recreated it as best as I remember it. This is a great way to use up any leftover fresh chestnuts you might have kicking around your refrigerator. Chestnuts have pretty much disappeared from the markets, but you can still find fresh cooked ones at the grocery stores. I used some dry ones that were begging to be used from my pantry and so I have given directions for dried chestnuts, but fresh in the shell or vacuum packed will work just dandy. I found a variety of combinations of chestnuts paired with butternut squash or other ingredients on recipes around the Internet that were more colorful or a richer version of this soup. Mine however is more in the tradition of the "la cucina povera" (poor or simple cooking) of the alps. Our woods here are full of chestnuts and potatoes are always our best crop in the garden. This combination is closer to the soup I tasted here. I used dried chestnuts, but I would have readily used fresh or already cooked ones if I had had them on hand and paired them with our garden potatoes as the base. I garnished with whatever might be on hand in a typical alpine pantry, a grate of Toma cheese, but more likely some heavy cream or a dollop of soft fresh cheese or hard grating cheese. Here, you will find fresh Tomini, which is a type of ricotta but stracchino, crecenza or mascarpone would do very nicely. I used my homemade yogurt, which gave it a nice tang and cut through the richness of the chestnuts. Naturally, Greek yogurt, creme fraiche or sour cream would all be most acceptable additions. When it was served as a part of the aperitivo offerings, it was presented in tall clear crystal cubes with a dot of cream.  I included that presentation in my photos as well as I found it a fun and different presentation that  added interest to the buffet.  I have added some typical toppings that make a nice addition to the soup for variation and contrast and is what we like to add to many of our different hearty winter soups. Sauteed leeks, crispy pancetta, bacon or garlicky herby crostini/ croutons or maybe even roasted pumpkin seeds. I think you get the idea. The toppings almost make for a completely different soup. So have at it, and use those lingering chestnuts for a comforting winters day soup.

Zuppa di Castagna /Chestnut Soup
Serves 4

200g dried chestnuts (about 8 oz) or fresh* you'll need more to compensate for the hulls
½ lg onion (100g/ 4 oz) sliced in medium pieces
1 lg carrot (80g/ 3oz chopped in to half moons
1-2 celery stalks (80g/ 3oz) chopped
2 bay leaves
2 medium potatoes (275-300g/ 10oz) peeled and cubed
1 Lt of water to cover, approximately

olive oil to saute´ all
Salt and Pepper to taste

Garnishes
yogurt

2-3 large leeks (250g/ 9 oz) sliced into rounds or half rounds



Clean and rinse your chestnuts. 
Cover with hot water and let set for ½ hour or so.
Saute the onion, carrot and celery in a sauce pan or a pressure cooker like I did, till the vegetables become fragrant and start to pick up some color.
Add the soaked and drained chestnuts along with bay leaves to the vegetables.
Cover with water and bring to a boil.
If using a pressure cooker, cook at pressure for about 20 minutes. If cooking in a regular sauce pan cover a simmer till soft. Should take at least an hour. Chestnuts should be very soft. You might need to add water it it evaporates and gets too dry.
Cool the pressure cooker down. I do this quickly by running it under cold running water to lower the pressure faster.
Open and add the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook until all is soft.
While all is cooking, saute´ your sliced leeks in some olive oil until crispy.  Sprinkle a little salt over the leeks. Set aside as a garnish.
Buzz the soup till smooth with a hand immersion wand, food processor or blender, adding additional reserved liquid if needed. I don' t mind if the soup isn't perfectly smooth as I prefer a bit of texture.
If your soup looks to be really soupy, you might consider draining off some of the liquid and reserving to add back in if the soup turns out to be too thick. It's easier to add needed liquid back in than to try and thicken the soup after you have creamed it. It will have a tendency to stick and burn if you try and reduce it after you have blended it.
Adjust seasonings as needed.
Serve in bowls with a swirl of yogurt and a generous sprinkle of crispy leeks or any other favored topping.
Cooks notes
* Check out Ciao Chow Linda's richer Leek and Chestnut version and her method of using
fresh chestnuts here.
Other possible additions or toppings
Greek yogurt, creme fraiche or sour cream
Ricotta, stracchino, crecenza or mascarpone
Crispy pancetta or bacon cubes
Bread cubes sauteed in a pan or browned in the oven with olive oil/butter, garlic, sage, rosemary or oregano, basil, whatever suits you. I tend to use rosemary and sage in the winter.
Toasted salted (or tamaried) pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds or a mix of all three.
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