Chestnut Soup and memories of Paris

by Marion on November 19, 2014

Chestnuts, potatoes, aromatics, butter, chicken stock and cream turn into a rich soup that stirs warm memories of Paris. Store-bought, vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts make it simple. Recipe below.

Chestnut Soup

The first time I encountered the chestnut vendors of Paris, on a cold November night walking down the Rue de Rivoli with my sister, I was hooked. To me, that has become one of the key Parisian experiences. The night street, thronged with Parisians heading home or to dinner or just having a stroll, the Algerian vendor, his neck wrapped in a knit scarf, the charcoal fire in a metal drum, the improvised metal plate that is the roasting surface, handing over my two euro to the vendor, who hands me a little newspaper cornet packed with fragrant, dark, freshly roasted chestnuts, then walking down the avenue, peeling the chestnuts one at a time, looking at the passing crowd, wondering what I will have to drink with dinner, being back in France.

For some reason, it had never occurred to me that chestnuts, my beloved welcome-to-France snack, would make a beautiful, aromatic soup too—at once elegant and comforting. I don’t remember the name of the long-gone restaurant here where we first had chestnut soup, as a tiny, exquisite starter to a winter celebration. But that hooked me too.

I am a big fat coward when it comes to home roasting chestnuts. But now, the prevalence of roasted, vacuum-packed chestnuts means I can have this soup whenever I like.

This is not something you want to have every day. Chestnuts are very calorie dense, and then of course you are also using butter and cream. But for now and then—a winter dinner party,  or a weekend brunch over the holidays, or something to reward yourself for surviving the work week—it is just the thing.

If you are a lover of hearty, flavor-dense dishes like this beef and pork ragú, or our Thanksgiving sweet potato vichyssoise, or if you just love the flavors of the harvest and the pleasure of settling in and taking care of yourself as the days grow shorter, you will love this.

It takes about 45 minutes to make (30 of those minutes just waiting for everything to simmer together). At the end, when you lean over the pot to check its progress, the heavenly, deep aroma will rise up and you will think, This is going to be great. And it will.

Chestnut Soup
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course

1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into thin coins
1/2 cup parsnip, peeled and chopped
1-1/2 cups potato, cut into small cubes or slices
about 12 ounces vacuum packed roasted chestnuts (plus extra, for garnish)
4 cups chicken stock
salt, pepper
1/3 cup cream or half and half

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium flame. Add the shallots, carrot and parsnip and sauté about two minutes or until the shallots are translucent. Add the potatoes and chestnuts, stir everything together and pour in the stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer about half an hour—until the potatoes and carrots are very tender.

Let cool a bit. Then puree it in the blender until very smooth. At this point, you can store it in the fridge for a day, or you can serve, heating it gently, adjusting seasonings with salt and pepper, and stirring in the cream. If you like, garnish with a few finely chopped chestnuts.

This was so good that I am planning to try some variations found online—not least Nick Kindelspringer’s lentil and chestnut soup and perhaps one of the soups using chestnuts and dried porcinis.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

[email protected] Riffs November 19, 2014 at 9:45 am

I love chestnut soup! And have never made it for some reason. Probably because roasting chestnuts is more than a bit of a pain. At least for those of us who only do it once a decade or so. 😉 I always forget about the canned chestnuts — thanks for the reminder. Really nice recipe — thanks.

randi November 20, 2014 at 11:08 am

Chestnut soup?? I would never have thought of that but how can it not be good? Freshly roasted chestnuts were a huge treat when as kids we would visit downtown Toronto. I’m going tomorrow for the weekend so thanks for the reminder! I am keeping my eyes peeled for the street vendors. Those vacuum packed chestnut are so handy to have. Definitely on the to-do list.

Anita November 20, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Thanks to carols and Christmas specials and recipe books, chestnuts were a food I so wanted to try, but back in the mid 80s when I found myself in NY City in the winter and I tried some from a street vendor, I was hugely underwhelmed. It wasn’t quite as violent a reaction as the “fresh-boiled peanut incident” (seriously, one does not keep dirt in one’s mouth, even if one made the mistake of putting some in), but I didn’t have a second one. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the issue. After all, I’m now a huge fan of brussels sprouts and beets; back then I would not have thought that possible.

Marion November 20, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Thanks, John. Try the vacuum-packed chestnuts – the ones I used for this soup are Gefen brand, found at Costco (in a box containing four pouches, natch).

Randi, have fun in Toronto! Lately I’ve been thinking about how much fun we always have there – I bet it’s lovely at this time of year and hurrah, they did not get that awful snowstorm.

Anita, hahahahahha! I can see totally see that incident. I hope you give this a try, though.

Val November 21, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Now, how about a nice Garlic Soup ?

Marion November 21, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Hmmm…. that could happen!

Kevin Ashton June 24, 2015 at 8:30 am

The soup looks good chef!
I also like your writing and how you paint a picture for the reader.
In my own home town of Birmingham, England they too used to sell
hot roasted chestnuts in the late fall and winter. This recipe has got me itching to take a look later this year.

Marion June 24, 2015 at 10:53 pm

Thanks, Kevin! Welcome to Blue Kitchen!

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