Starting around December 1st, holiday carols become a staple in my life- I turn them on for my drive to and from work, and then again every evening to cook dinner. It only took about a week of listening to carols to feel the need to start roasting chestnuts- although unfortunately not over an open fire. I wanted to do something a little different with the rich and sweet nuts, so I decided to combine it with bright, peppery watercress in a smooth, creamy soup.
Roasting chestnuts (in a conventional oven, rather than the open fire) is important as it allows you to remove the shells more easily, and cooks the bitter notes out of the nuts. For your ovens safety, as well as your own, it is important to score each nut with an X- if you don’t, as the nut heats, steam will build inside the shell until it quite literally explodes and chestnut shrapnel will be everywhere. Once the nuts have cooked, the shells will peel away from the nutmeat, and they will have turned golden. Shell them as soon as their cool enough to touch, because if you allow them to cool down completely the shells will be much harder to remove.
The creaminess of the soup is accomplished with one of the easiest tricks in the book- potato. Combined with the peppery, nearly raw watercress and the rich chestnuts, this soup looks almost spring colored, but this warm, sweet and hearty soup stands up to the chilly winters.
Watercress and Chestnut Soup
- 3-4 cups of whole, raw chestnuts (2 cups of shelled, roasted meats)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion
- 3-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 quart vegetable broth or water
- 1.5 lb. potato
- 12 oz. fresh watercress
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay the chestnuts flat and use a sharp knife to draw an X on each of the rounded surfaces of the nuts. Make sure the break through the shell (if you don’t, they will explode in the oven), and it’s okay if you cut into the meat of the nut a little. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and cook until the skins have opened up and they have started to turn golden (mine took about 15 minutes). Remove them from the oven and peel away the shells while they’re still warm, throwing away any nuts you find that are rotten. Set these aside.
2. Mince the garlic, dice the onions and peel and chop the potatoes into cubes, about 1 inch thick.
3. In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the garlic and onion and cook for around 3 minutes until the onions have softened a little. Add the potatoes and vegetable broth, bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer. After around 10 minutes check the potatoes- you can tell they’re cooked when a fork goes through easily.
4. Once the potatoes are cooked, turn off the heat and add the watercress. Stir in until the watercress has wilted, then transfer the entire mixture to a food processor along with around 2 cups of roasted chestnuts. Blend until smooth, and season with salt and pepper before serving.