[Looking for a lavish, indulgent-tasting, and easy to prepare soup for the season? Roasted Chestnut and Parsnip Soup is gorgeous and silky, all while being vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, egg free, soy-free, nut-free, yeast-free, and low glycemic. Suitable for Stage 2 and beyond on an anti-candida diet.]
For several years after I graduated university, I’d return to Windsor to visit with my former room mate and her husband. They’d gotten married straight out of school and had purchased a house almost immediately (a very grown-up thing to do, I thought, and entirely beyond the realm of my abilities at the time). During one visit, Roomie showed me her collection of (grown-up) china and silverware. Everything was stored in a breakfront in the dining room, with the dishes each encased in its own silk slipcover, like a miniature pillowcase sized specifically for the dish. The cases were stacked neatly on shelves, clearly never used. The silverware, likewise, remained in its original box–the forks, knives and spoons lined up like subjects in suspended animation, having never been disturbed from their slumber.
I suppose we all have “special occasion” items that we’re saving for some undetermined future. Most families own a set of fancy dishware–bone china, maybe, with perhaps a line of gold filligree looping around the scalloped edge of each plate–reserved for family reunions or holidays. Or maybe you treasure your “once in a lifetime” dress, the black Chanel sheath you nabbed for half price at the designer discount outlet, the one you adore but have never worn because you’re saving it for “that special date.”
We had “special occasion” furniture in our house when I was a kid, too, with couches sealed in plastic slipcovers just like Marie’s on Everybody Loves Raymond. My parents claimed the plastic was there to preserve the cream and white French Provincial sofas in pristine condition for when company arrived, but Mom and Dad never did take off the plastic, even when the house was full of people. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and my parents were old enough that they no longer had much company over anyway, that the covers finally came off.
I’ve certainly been equally guilty of hoarding things I hold dear, only to discover when the time finally arrived that said item was tarnished (silver pie server), out of style (square-toed boots), moth-eaten (pure linen tablecloth), no longer my size (favorite mini skirt) or simply extinct (cassette tapes). You know the LeeAnn Womack song, “I Hope You Dance“? Even though I never particularly liked the song, I’ve been making a concerted effort lately to apply the message behind the lyrics. I want to actually use my beloved possessions, not just for rare occasions, but as often as possible. So I’m drinking tea out of antique cups and saucers, and juice out of champagne flutes, and using my Mom’s china (which I inherited) for our weekend dinners. (Oh, and I’m dancing, when I can, too.)
When I think of chestnuts, well, they always bring to mind those “special occasion” items. Chestnuts are the kind of food we rarely see during the rest of the year but are ubiquitous during the holidays. In fact, I never gave them much thought at all until a few years ago, when The CFO came to visit. As a snack on the train, she brought with her a plastic bag of dried chestnuts. She loved the starchy, meaty taste and enjoyed munching on them as a regular part of her diet. No major holiday; just a desire for one of her favorite snack foods.
I must admit, I wasn’t entirely sold at first. My only previous encounter with chestnuts had been in the form of chestnut flour shortly after my ND commanded a complete overhaul of my lifelong eating habits, back in the 1990s. At the time, a pronouncement of “NO GLUTEN” seemed worse than solitary confinement. As someone who’d eaten wheat virtually every meal (sometimes it was pretty much the only ingredient in the entire meal, come to think of it), I was frantic to secure some replacements for my daily gluten fix. After some quick online research, I came across a recipe for chestnut flour pancakes.
Pancakes! Now, that sounded like something familiar, comforting and delicious. I went and got myself a bag of chestnut flour, mixed up a batch of pancakes using the flour in place of wheat, and dug in.
Pew! Bah! Bleh! Spitooey!
No, I would not say I was a big fan of chestnut-flour pancakes. (They would have been great to plug the holes between the bricks on our back wall, though. )
Needless to say, I was a bit reluctant to try this soup. But when I saw the recipe in this month’s Good Housekeeping, the photo was so alluring, the tureen brimming with a deeply golden, silky purée topped with a swirl of rich sour cream, I knew I had to try it. Besides, what was I waiting for?
It was no trouble at all to veganize the original, subbing vegetable broth for the chicken stock and my own homemade sour cream for the original dairy variety. It mixed up fairly quickly, as I sautéed the onions while the other ingredients baked, the kitchen awash in scents of cararmelized parsnip and smoky chestnut.
The final result was even better than I’d imagined. Thick, rich and pillowy smooth, the slight sweetness complemented by a woody undertone, as if the soup had simmered gently over a campfire.
In fact, I’d say this soup is so good it would transform any occasion into something special. So don’t save it for the holidays alone. Eat it any time, just because you want to and because it’s enchanting. Carpe Castanea!
Roasted Chestnut and Parsnip Soup (adapted from Good Housekeeping, November 2010)
Although I haven’t tried chestnuts on their own, I am guessing that this soup doesn’t deliver an overpowering chestnut flavor. Instead, the chestnuts seem to confer both richness and thickness to the soup, which is velvety smooth and irresistible.
10 ounces (275 g) roasted and peeled chestnuts (measure after peeling–about 25 fresh)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic, divided
2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium redskinned potato, and chopped (peel if desired)
4 cups (1 liter) vegetable broth or stock
2-3 cups (480-720 ml) water, as needed to reach desired thickness
about 1/2 cup (120 ml) dairy-free sour cream (you can just buy it or make your own), optional
If you are using fresh chestnuts, as I did, preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.
Use a very sharp knife to cut an “X” shape in the shells, just enough to pierce the outer layer but not open up the nut. Place in a single layer on one sheet and bake until the shells open up and curl away from the nuts, 30-40 minutes (I like mine a bit browned). Remove from oven and allow to cool completely, then peel off the outer shells with your fingers and coarsely chop the chestnuts. May be prepared a day ahead; store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one day. (Be sure to keep them refrigerated! The first time I attempted to make these, I left them on the counter at room temperature in a plastic ziploc bag. By the end of Day 2, they were growing mold.)
Bake the parsnips at the same time: drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat, then place on the other baking sheet and bake until browned and soft, about 45 minutes.
While the parsnip bakes and the chestnuts cool, heat the other 1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil in a large saucepot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, potato and chopped chestnuts. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until the onion is golden, stirring frequently. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Transfer the soup, along with the parsnips, in batches to a blender and blend until velvety smooth and no lumps remain (be sure to guard against splatters as the soup is HOT!); or use an immersion blender. Transfer each batch to a large bowl and stir together to combine evenly once all the batches are blended and transferred. To serve, return the soup to the pot and heat until gently it is warmed through. If it’s too thick, add more water.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with sour cream, if desired. Makes 12 appetizer or 6-8 regular servings. May be frozen.
Suitable for: ACD Stage 2 and beyond; refined sugar-free, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, egg free, soy-free, yeast-free, vegan, low glycemic.
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