I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Roasted Chestnut Bisque

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I guess Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby have made chestnuts part of the holiday season for ever. I never really knew what that line was all about until my first holiday season in London, where vendors sell roasting chestnuts from special carts on the main shopping streets, and the fragrance they produce really does make the air smell like Christmas. We don’t do that here, so it was a new experience for me.  In fact, it has only been in the last few years that chestnuts started to appear in stores here.  For me, the chestnut frenzy starts when I first see the jars of roasted and peeled chestnuts on the shelf.  I start going on a spree, stocking up just in case I can’t find them again.  I always use chestnuts in my Thanksgiving stuffing, but I inevitably buy too many jars, so I’ve become pretty creative at using them up, like my Crispy Chestnut Veal.

But here I have interpreted the sweet, silky flavor of chestnuts into a creamy, lovely soup perfect for the holidays.  It can be a nice, warming hearty dish with some good country bread and a winter salad, but also makes a most elegant starter for a seated holiday dinner.  And if you are of a mind, it would be brilliant served in shot glasses passed around at a swanky cocktail party.

I always buy chestnuts ready-roasted in jars or vacuum-sealed bags, but if you like to buy whole chestnuts and roast and peel them yourself, by all means, go ahead.

Roasted Chestnut Bisque

Marjoram is an amazing complement to chestnuts, but if you can’t find it, substitute thyme.  Don’t skip the marjoram oil, as it really adds the perfect finishing touch.  You could sprinkle some chestnut pieces or small toasted croutons on the bisque as well.

For the Bisque:

1 medium-sized yellow onion

2 carrots

3 celery stalks

1 medium-sized leek

¼ cup olive oil

6 Tablespoon cognac or brandy

4 cups chicken stock

2 (7.4 ounce) jars roasted and peeled chestnuts

6 – 7 sprigs marjoram

1 ½ cups heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Marjoram Oil (see below)

Dice the onion, carrot, celery and leek.  I do this in the food processor pulse just until everything is chopped.  In a large Dutch oven, sauté the vegetables in ¼ cup olive oil over medium-high heat until soft and tender, and the onion and leeks are translucent.  Add the cognac and stir, scraping up and bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until the cognac is evaporated.  Add the stock, the chestnuts and the marjoram sprigs (count how many so you can take them out later).  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer the soup for 45 minutes.  Leave the soup to cool until it’s safe to put in the blender. Meanwhile, prepare the marjoram oil (see below).

Fish out the marjoram stems, then transfer the soup to a blender in batches and puree until smooth.  After blending each batch, pour the soup through a wire mesh strainer set over a large bowl and push the soup through with a wooden spoon or spatula.  There won’t be much in the way of solids left behind, but straining the soup creates the velvety texture that makes this bisque so elegant. (For an even velvetier texture, you could push the soup through the strainer a second time).  When you have strained all the soup, wipe out the Dutch oven and return the soup to the pot.  At this point, you can cover the soup and refrigerate it for up to two days before completing it.

When ready to serve the soup, heat it gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally, but do not let it boil.  Slowly stir in the cream, incorporating it fully into the soup, then warm through.  Serve immediately drizzled with marjoram oil.

Makes 4 large bowls or 6 small

For the Marjoram Oil:

6 Tablespoons olive oil

4 sprigs marjoram

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan just until bubbles appear on the surface and the oil is shimmering.  Remove from the heat and leave to cool for two minutes, then drop in the marjoram sprigs, cover the pan and leave to cool.  Strain the cooled oil into a jar or small spouted measuring cup for drizzling on the soup. The oil can be kept in an airtight jar for up to a week.

This post is part of Share Our Strength’s Share Our Holiday Table a virtual, progressive fundraising dinner designed to raise awareness of child hunger in the U.S. during the critical holiday season.  As you enjoy the bounty of the table this season, please think of those who are not so fortunate and donate to Share Our Strength.  And visit the Share Our Holiday Table site to see all the amazing bloggers who are participating and check out their great recipes.

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