Monday, April 16, 2012

Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream & Thyme

Chestnut trees have long been present on the Italian landscape, and in Umbria, chestnut trees have thrived for centuries, defying steep, mountainous slopes and flourishing among the rolling green pastures and forested hills of the 'Green Heart' of Italy. High in complex carbohydrates and low in fat, with a starchy-sweet flavour and chewy yet soft texture, chestnuts have provided comfort and sustenance throughout the ages. A staple of the Mediterranean diet for centuries, chestnuts were coveted for their nutrition and flavour by peasants and nobility alike. Wonderfully versatile, they can be dried, ground into flour, as well as eaten fresh, either raw or roasted. 

Luscious, smooth and silky, this creamy Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream by Fabio Trabocchi is best served in small cups as an hors d'oeuvre or as a primi piatti. If you don't want to use raw chestnuts and peel them yourself, you can always buy peeled and cooked chestnuts at Williams Sonoma. 

Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream
Serves 10 as first course
Recipe by Fabio Trabocchi

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 oz thinly sliced pancetta
1/2 cup medium shallots, sliced
1/2 cup celery root, diced peeled
1/2 lb white mushrooms, sliced
1 14-oz jar roasted chestnuts, coarsely chopped (available at Williams-Sonoma)
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Cognac
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sage sprig
1 thyme sprig, plus 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, for garnish
3/4 cup half-and-half cream
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp grappa

In a large saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the shallots and celery root and cook until the celery root is just tender, about 10 minutes. 

Transfer the vegetables to a bowl, leaving the pancetta and fat in the saucepan.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to the saucepan along with the mushrooms and all but 2 tablespoons of the chestnuts. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are slightly softened, 6 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the chicken stock and the celery root mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add the Cognac and cook until evaporated, 2 minutes.

Add the bay leaf, sage and thyme sprigs to the saucepan along with the remaining chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the pancetta, bay leaf, sage and thyme.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until creamy and smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan. Stir in the half-and-half, season with salt and white pepper and keep warm.

In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat in the grappa and season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into small bowls. Dollop the grappa cream on top, garnish with the thyme leaves and the reserved 2 tablespoons of chestnuts and serve.

COOK'S NOTE: The soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before serving, adding a few tablespoons of water to thin it as needed. Photo © John Kernick: Food & Wine 

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