Creamy Chestnut – Squash Soup by Rick Brown

I’ll warn you upfront. This recipe is a royal pain in the ass to make. It’s labor intensive and brutal on your hands. I make a double batch because it freezes extremely well and I’d rather be miserable one afternoon and enjoy this wonderful soup the rest of the winter without having to start from scratch again. But you can cut it in half if you like … or double this. It is a delicious, satisfying soup that will take the sting out of winter… and make you forget how sore your fingers are from all that peeling … albeit temporarily.

2 pounds fresh chestnuts
4 - 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups diced onions
6 – 8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
8 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (1 inch pieces)
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
2 - 3 cinnamon sticks
4 - 6 large sprigs of fresh rosemary (or to taste)
3 – 4 bay leaves
6 cups water
6 cups vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (or a tad more)
Coarse sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Score each of the chestnuts using a sharp knife making an “X” on the flat side. (I suggest if you are going to drink any alcohol while cooking you do this task and all the choppity-chop before imbibing.) In a large saucepan bring 3 or 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Carefully drop the chestnuts into the pan and boil for ½ an hour or so. Drain the chestnuts in a colander and cool down with cold water. Once cooled, peel the shells away from the chestnuts. Reserve the “meat” and discard the shells. (Told you it was a pain.)

In a large, heavy soup pot (8 quarts or more) warm the olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, sauté the onions for about 10 minutes or until they are translucent. Add the squash, red pepper flakes, garlic and chestnuts. Sauté everything over medium high heat for about 5 minutes.

Using the rosemary, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks make a bouquet garni. You can either tie them together with kitchen twine or … and this is my preference … wrap everything in cheesecloth.
Add the water, vegetable stock and bouquet garni and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for ½ an hour or until the chestnuts and squash are soft. Turn off heat, discard the bouquet garni and add the vinegar.

At this point you need to puree all the ingredients. You could transfer in batches to a blender (dumb idea) or a food processor (better idea) or do what I do. Get yourself a hand held immersion blender. (This way the alcohol you began drinking after all the peeling and choppity-chop won’t prove catastrophic.) These things are great, do a terrific job, and while not dishwasher safe are easier to clean. (A lot easier than the kitchen walls splattered with soup after temporarily blinding yourself!)

Once pureed, heat soup gently and season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Bon appetite!!!