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Chestnut Soup with Crisp Prosciutto

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Serves eight to ten.

Yields about 10 cups.

  • by Melissa Pellegrino from Fine Cooking
    Issue 102

Fresh chestnuts are a tough nut to crack, literally, so be ready to work for this oh-so-worth-it soup. Before roasting, the chestnuts need to soak in warm water for 25 minutes; after roasting, you’ll need to peel the nuts by hand while still warm, which takes time. That said, it’s a celebratory starter that feeds a crowd, and you will be very glad that you put in the effort to make it. For an ultra-silky texture, use a regular blender rather than a hand blender to purée the rich soup.

  • 3 lb. fresh chestnuts
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 medium leeks (white and light-green parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme; more for garnish
  • 10 cups lower-salt chicken broth
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into thin strips

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium bowl, cover the chestnuts with warm water and soak for 25 minutes. Drain and dry with paper towels. Score an X into the flat side of each chestnut, cutting all the way through the shell. Put them flat sides up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the Xs curl back into a crown shape and they are tender when squeezed, about 30 minutes. Peel while still warm, removing both the shell and the inner skin. If a shell resists peeling, spoon out the nutmeat instead. Roughly chop the chestnuts and set aside in a medium bowl.

In a 6-quart pot, melt the butter with 2 Tbs. of oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the chestnuts and 1 Tbs. of the thyme; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth and 1/2 tsp. salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the chestnuts are extremely tender, about 30 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Let cool briefly. Working in batches, purée the soup, either in a regular blender or with a hand blender. Strain the soup through a fine sieve into a clean 4-quart pot. Set the soup back over medium-low heat and gently reheat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in an 8-inch nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tsp. oil over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 Tbs. thyme and cook 30 seconds more. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with some of the prosciutto and thyme.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 330; Fat (g): 10; Fat Calories (kcal): 80; Saturated Fat (g): 3; Protein (g): 10; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 4; Carbohydrates (g): 54; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1.5; Sodium (mg): 290; Cholesterol (mg): 10; Fiber (g): 5;

Photo: Scott Phillips

I made this with jarred chestnuts based on 1 lb fresh chestnuts yielding about 2 1/2 cups chestnuts. My husband thought it was the best soup he'd ever eaten. I used my immersion blender and then poured the soup through a fine strainer - so silky! Next time I might saute bacon with the onion.

I agree 100% with the previous reviewers. The text and recipe didn't adequately prepare me for how labor intensive this recipe is. It's simple and straightforward as far as the number of ingredients and the actual steps involved, but man oh man those steps. My thumbs are also torn up, I was also relieved I had actually bought 4 pounds of chestnuts to allow for the number of unusable nuts (either because of mold or that they were unpeelable), and for me the pushing through a sieve took about an hour. (Maybe my sieve was too fine?) All told this took me 6 hours to make: 2 for the roasting/peeling and 4 for the cooking/cooling/blending/sieving. BUT. Oh gracious it was tasty. The texture after pushing the sieve was creamy smooth, and the leeks brought a nice bit of pungency to the sweet starchiness of the chestnust. The crisped bacon with thyme really added a lovely bit of texture and salt/smoke/savory. I swapped pancetta for the prosciutto and added a small dollop of plain greek yogurt to the soup to cut the sweet a bit. This is really a lovely soup, but for sure it would have been helpful to get some kind of heads up about the time/labor intensiveness of this one.

This soup was good, but I think it could use some improvement. Thanks to other reviewers mentioning the difficulty of peeling the chestnuts, I looked for an alternative. I used a method from Cooks Illustrated: score the chestnuts around their equator (instead of the X), roast for 30 minutes at 450, then wait for them to cool before peeling. I didn't soak in water before hand as mentioned in this recipe. While I can't compare it directly with the method here, I found that most of the chestnuts peeled really easily. I only used a lb of chestnuts and it took me about 20 minutes. I would also recommend getting extra chestnuts in case some are moldy, and also so you can avoid spending extra time on the difficult ones. I used a regular blender for the soup, but did not strain it. Next time, I might actually try straining it to get the silkier texture as the soup did seem a little thick. Finally, I think the prosciutto was absolutely essential to enjoying the soup. Once the crispy pieces ran out, the soup was a little too sweet on it's own. Next time I will try using bacon in the base of the soup like I have for some squash soups. I think that would help keep the salty, smoky flavor throughout. Overall, the soup was good enough to try again with some adjustments. I just discovered chestnuts and I love them!

I agree with a previous reviewer that the work of peeling the chestnuts was understated in the recipe. It would be great to know if you could used the peeled chestnuts you can buy in jars in the supermarket. The soup is great, but had to tell my hb to savor it deeply because I will never ever will do it again from scratch!. I also would love to know if it can be made ahead.

Let me start by saying: this recipe completely understates the work that goes into peeling those Chestnuts. Now, I love FC, and have jumped into every recipe with excitement. I am not faint of heart nor unwilling to work for hours for the right combination of flavors. That said: I started cooking at 6 and was ready to serve at 10p. Although my husband helped me, it took us two hours to peel. Also, nearly a quarter of our chestnuts were rotted, something we did not discover until we had begun peeling. So for those willing to do this recipe: buy 3.5 pounds instead of three. I did push the soup through a sieve and I only used a hand blender. In my opinion, it did not ruin the integrity of the soup. Back to the peeling. My thumbs are destroyed. Tiny shards of the so called "sticky" substance under the shell, slid in between the skin and nail of any fingers that took part in the peeling. Very painful. If the recipe were not so good I would have swore those who ate it to secrecy and never, NEVER used it again. Bottom line: Soup was transcendent and should remain a starter because it is so rich. The texture reminds me of split pea soup although it is much sweeter. It is perfectly paired with the crispy, salty, prosciutto. If you are willing to invest time for peeling (for those of you who have four hours to kill on Christmas) this recipe is absolutely worth it. FineCooking: How about some make ahead tips for this recipe? How many peeled pounds of chestnuts should we need? When testing this recipe, how many people peeled with you? (Just some thoughts from an adoring home cook)

Pros - Excellent, warm flavor: ideal soup for a cold night. Can match up with any non-spicy steak, chicken, or fish dish. Also can match up with practically any salad. I didn't sieve the soup after pureeing it, because I wanted to preserve the body of the soup. Con - Peeling three pounds of roasted chestnuts is very labor intensive. You'll need at least two, if not three, people to do it quickly.

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