December 11, 2012 by Gennefer Gross
When I was growing up, the silky sounds of Nat King Cole crooning, ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire…’ was the hallmark of the holidays for me. Every time I would hear it, I’d get that rush of childlike exuberance that encapsulates the magic of the season, and makes you feel like anything is possible.
Yet, despite the fact that inordinate amounts of food were also synonymous with the holidays in my family (6 courses and 3 hours worth of dishes to be exact, by hand), we never had one dish with a chestnut in it. Not a one. For shame.
So, as I got older, and began to nurture my inner chef, I decided to remedy that travesty by starting a new tradition of savory chestnut soup to begin the descent into our annual colossal feast, much to my Grandmother’s chagrin who quite religiously served Italian Escarole soup. (And by religiously, I mean had served Escarole for 30+ years prior to my first course usurping; or usouping, as it were. OK, bad joke.)
But my soup was a big hit, and each year I’d add or change the ingredients, perfecting my chestnut prowess with new and interesting pairings. Needless to say, some years were better than others. The addition of raisins, for example. Disaster. Cranberries, however. Surprisingly delicious. And those tart little buggers are still the perfect complement to the soup. The cranberries, that is — not my family!
And now for the first time ever outside the hallowed halls of the Gross residence, I am sharing my coveted recipe for you to enjoy, which now includes honey glazed grilled salmon, making it a hearty first — or, even second — course for your own foray into holiday gorging and merriment.
Ingredients and Preparation (Chestnut Soup)
4 medium leeks (trim at root end where green part starts)
2 sweet potatoes (peeled)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped roasted chestnuts
4 cups chicken stock (can use vegetable, too but I prefer chicken)
1/4 cup apple cider
1/4 teaspoon dried, rubbed sage
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or nutmeg; if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can use allspice!)
1/4 cup cranberries
1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute with skim milk for a healthier, lower fat option)
Fresh sage and sour cream for garnish (and to ‘hold’ salmon atop the soup)
Brush leeks and sweet potatoes lightly with olive oil and bake at 375°F for about 45 minutes, until soft and aromatic. While roasting, drizzle leeks with broth a few times to keep moist.
Combine chestnuts, stock and cider in large saucepan and bring to a boil, covered. Cook approximately 35 minutes, or until chestnuts are very soft. (Do not use all chestnuts in this mixture, as you need to save some to add ‘crunch’ and texture to the finished soup.)
Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Add leeks and potatoes to the mixture, along with sage, honey and cinnamon. Process until smooth and creamy.
Pour contents into saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir in heavy cream (or milk — add extra heating time for cream) and remaining, unprocessed chestnuts. Simmer until heated through, but do not boil. Add salt or pepper to taste.
Pour into soup bowls. Drizzle in cranberries. (sometimes I’ll glaze the cranberries in butter and brown sugar and bake for 5 minutes prior to drizzling them in the soup for added flavor and warmth.)
Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Strew thin slices of grilled salmon (recipe below) atop sour cream and garnish with chopped fresh sage on top.
Ingredients and Preparation (Honey Glazed Salmon)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons onion salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Dash of paprika (yes, paprika.)
2 pounds salmon filet, approximately 1” thick
Make marinade by whisking together all ingredients (um, except the salmon. naturally.).
Place salmon in baking dish, pour marinade and turn over once to coat completely.
Grill salmon skin side down for 5 minutes. Turn and grill for 5 minutes more, or until salmon is cooked through. (seafood thermometer recommended)
Unevenly slice into strips for soup garnish.
Between the soup and the salmon, the result is a rich, velvety flavor with a hint of sweetness. Even after experimenting so much over the years, I’m sure this won’t be my last iteration on my quest for chestnut perfection, and I suggest that you also try some creative ingredients and substitutions for the foundation I’ve laid out. I would love to hear your feedback on how yours turned out and anything you may have altered or added to give it your own unique signature.
And, of course, be sure to use local produce and on the off chance that there are any leftovers, you can use the soup as a robust marinade for chicken or have the makings of a flavorful stew or casserole base.
But, above all, the most satisfying part of the meal is sharing with friends and family, who will still love you even if you try sun dried tomatoes and Worcester sauce in your chestnut soup recipe one year. True story.
Happy Holidays and enjoy!