Nuts for Chestnuts



Chances are your open fire’s a Wolf dual-fuel oven and it’s your schnauzer that’s nipping at your heels, but who’s judging? It’s the holidays, so get those chestnuts roasting.

It’s no accident that chestnuts are memorialized in Christmas lore. Brazil nuts just don’t have that same frisson. That robust, earthy scent wafting from midtown street-corner carts is a touchstone of my childhood, instantly conjuring Lord & Taylor window fantasies and the Rockefeller tree.

Okay, enough rhapsodizing. Let’s eat!

Plates (121 Myrtle Blvd, Larchmont 914-834-1244; platesonthepark.com) owner/chef Matthew Karp’s chestnut-and-wild mushroom-soup recipe awaits, but before the delectable, the practical. Know that most supermarket chestnuts are imported, so freshness can be spotty. Domestic varieties are a better bet, and two excellent suppliers are Correia Farm (chestnuts.us) and Delmarvelous Farms (buychestnuts.com). Quality chestnuts have a smooth, shiny outer shell free of soft spots or mold.

“Chestnuts bring a creamy, sweet, starchy goodness to cooking,” says Karp. “Their earthiness and rusticity remind me of pheasant hunting and truffle harvests in Tuscany.” And so he flaunts them on Plates’s winter menu, coarsely puréeing them into squash soup, partnering their sweetness with Brussels sprouts’ astringency, pairing them with glazed pork loin in a special, or as a festive dessert of mounded chestnut purée with a chocolate cloak and whipped cream summit titled Monte Bianco. Served with chestnut ice cream, it’s the climax of his New Year’s Eve menu. For him, it’s auld lang syne.

For us, heaven.

Chestnut Soup with Wild Mushrooms
Courtesy of Matthew Karp, Plates

For roasting chestnuts:
Preheat oven to 400ºF. With tip of paring knife, make shallow cut circling nut around its center. Cut deep enough to penetrate the papery membrane, but not the nut itself. On small baking pan, place scored nuts on bed of kosher salt so that nut does not touch metal and harden. Roast 35 minutes, until nuts are fragrant and start bursting from skins. Peel while still hot.


For soup:
1 cup onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 leeks, white part only, sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil, for sautéing
¼ cup celery root, sliced
2 button mushrooms, sliced
Bouquet garni, wrapped and tied in
coffee filter: 1 sprig thyme and rosemary/
1 dried bay leaf/6 black peppercorns
2 qts chicken or turkey stock
(vegetable stock can be substituted)
10 chestnuts, roasted, peeled, and
coarsely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup assorted wild mushrooms, sliced
Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste

 

In large pot over medium heat, cook onion, garlic, and leeks in 2 tablespoons olive oil with salt and pepper until soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add button mushrooms, celery root, and bouqet garni; cook 5 minutes. Add stock and ¾ of chestnuts, simmer 45 minutes, partially covered. Remove and discard bouquet garni. Add cream, cook 5 minutes. Purée soup in blender, in batches if necessary. Strain through sieve into bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste. Return soup to clean pot and re-heat. In small pan coated with olive oil, sauté wild mushrooms with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with sautéed mushrooms and remaining chopped chestnuts.

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