Thursday, December 31, 2009

...and a Happy New Year!

Being home in Greece for the holidays feels like time travel. Nothing changes at my grandmother's house where the whole family spends the holidays. And the holidays mean one thing and one thing only for my family. Food, food and... food! Planning meals, shopping for meals, preparing the food for meals, cooking meals, eating meals while discussing the meals, cleaning up after the end of each meal, planning meals for the following days. This is a vicious cycle I tell you! And of course I'm caught in it. I have to do my part, not that I'm complaining. Cooking is as important to me as for the rest of my clan. It's just that when three home cooks -my grandmother, my mother, and I- try to organize the festive family meals and cook them, chaos is the appropriate word to describe these occasions. We each think that we can contrive the best menu possible and the fact that each one of us has their distinct cooking style and method, makes it even more difficult to reach common ground on these menus.

My grandmother, being the more traditional cook, wants to prepare every single dish she has been preparing for the past forty years, proud of her heritage and always wanting to please every single member of the family. My mother, the spontaneous cook, wanting to try things that she'd never attempted before, gleefully and with the enthusiasm that is characteristic of her personality. I, the innovative cook -at least to my family's eyes- always trying to introduce new ideas and flavors that usually contradict the traditional greek concept of what Christmas and New Year's menus should include.
I can assure you that we eat extremely well during these days. No matter which menu we decide to choose eventually and who is the head cook for the day, it always turns out to be a magnificent experience for us and our loved ones.

This year I tried to familiarize myself and the family more with chestnuts. I've always eaten them in turkey stuffing or roasted, but never as a soup.
During the holidays, on the busy shopping streets of Athens, you can find stands where corn on the cob and chestnuts are being roasted on an open fire and sold to the passers-by. To those wanting to get warm standing by the fire, picking with greed yet carefully the flesh off, from the almost blackened from the fire, shells of the hot chestnuts and savoring them.
I wanted to create that same feeling of warmth and comfort with a soup made of chestnuts. Mission accomplished. This is a rich creamy soup full of flavor. The woody, nutty taste of the chestnuts complements the tartness of the port, and the addition of fresh vegetables and butter composes a sweet mixture that gives pleasure in every mouthful. The cream comes at the end to round up all the flavors and to give a smooth texture to the soup.
It's a scrumptious soup worthy of a New Year's dinner, served as a starter. It will most surely intrigue your guests' palates and they'll look forward to what's coming up next on your menu.

Chestnut Soup with Port

There are two ways to peel whole chestnuts. One way is to peel them with a sharp knife when they're raw. First peeling the outer, hard layer and then the inner soft hairs, leaving the flesh of the chestnut exposed. The other way is to boil them first and then peel them. I prefer the first method since I believe it is easier and less cumbersome. When you try to peel chestnuts after you've boiled them, you tend to lose a large amount of the flesh in the process since the shell tends to stick very hard onto the flesh, making it difficult to remove it.

Yield: 6-8 first-course servings

670 g whole raw chestnuts (2 3/4 cups raw peeled chestnuts)
1 cup celery, chopped
1 1/3 cup carrot, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
125 g butter
240 ml (1 cup) Ruby port
5 fresh thyme sprigs
950 ml or 4 cups good quality chicken stock, preferably homemade
120 ml (1/2 cup) cream, plus a little more to pour on top of soup when serving
A pinch of white pepper
Créme fraiche (optional)

Place the raw peeled chestnuts in a medium-sized saucepan and fill it with water. Bring to the boil over high heat and then simmer over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the chestnuts are soft. Drain them in a colander and leave them to dry while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat and add the onions, the carrots and the celery. Lower the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables until they become soft, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes. Add the thyme and port and let simmer for 3 minutes. Place the chestnuts in the pot and stir well so that they get coated with the port and butter. Cook for 4 minutes and add the chicken stock and white pepper. Bring the mixture to the boil and then simmer over low heat, with the lid half-open, for about 40 minutes. Remove the lid and let simmer for 10 more minutes.
Once soup is cooked, discard the thyme sprigs and pour soup in a blender*. Purée in batches until smooth and place in a clean pot. Stir in the cream, check for seasoning, and reheat the soup gently over very low heat, stirring. Ladle soup in warm bowls and pour a little cream over it or a small spoonful of créme fraiche.
Serve immediately.

*You can alternatively use an immersion blender directly into the pot and purée the soup.



  1. Love chestnut it. MAde it recently with sage...yummy and I see you slit the chestnuts in the manner I saw them do at a Christmas market in Cologne. In the past I used to make crosses but this is not the way and manner of choise...Have a blessed 2010!

  2. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful New Year!

  3. Hi Magda. Thanks for passing from my blog and giving me the chance to find out about yours. I'll add you to my google reader and follow your posts regularly. Your soup sounds delicious. I made a chestnut soup recently as well but have not posted it yet. I noticed that you are new at blogging. If you need any help please do not hestitate to contact me. Kali Chronia.

  4. Thank you Ivy. I might take you up on that kind offer of yours.

  5. Love this soup...! Might definitely be worth trying that although I think I didn't buy enough chestnuts. O well, I can always go back and buy more!