Chestnut and Fennel Soup

Years ago an aikido friend of mine and I travelled to Shikoku, a Southern island of Japan. On a brisk walk one day we discovered the path covered with chestnuts. We gathered a bunch and took them back to where we were staying. Not knowing exactly how to cook them, but having seen plenty of NYC vendors with pans of hot chestnuts in them, we decided to pan roast them. We placed the chestnuts in a single layer in a large frying pan and put them on high heat. I bet you can guess what happened next?

A few minutes into our little experiment the chestnuts started exploding, like popcorn, all over the kitchen. It was all we could do to avoid getting hit by these blazing hot, golf ball-sized projectiles. Who knew you had to score the shells first? Still, after the mess, I still remember how good those chestnuts were.

American chestnut trees once filled our eastern forests, but were all but wiped out by blight in the early 1900s. These days most of the sweet chestnuts we buy come from Europe, though there are organizations such as the American Chestnut Foundation working to breed blight-resistant chestnut trees.

So, about this chestnut soup. My first introduction to chestnut soup came from Dorie Greenspan in her Around My French Table cookbook. Have you ever tried chestnut soup? It’s utterly delicious. I’ve seen chestnut soups with apples, pears, mushrooms; all work well with this sweet, earthy nut. For this soup, I decided to pair the chestnuts with fennel, whose natural sweetness and hints of anise work beautifully with the chestnuts.

I have found when cooking with chestnuts, already prepared (jarred or packaged) chestnuts work best because of the consistency of texture and flavor. Packaged roasted chestnuts can be hard to find though. I searched 3 stores before finding a few jars. They can be found online though, and you can always roast the chestnuts yourself (remember to score them first!)

Chestnut and Fennel Soup Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

The recipe works best with packaged cooked chestnuts. However, if those are not available, you can easily prepare chestnuts from scratch if you want. Cut a cross, about 1/8 inch deep and wide enough to go to the edges of one side of the chestnut, into the shells (so steam can escape), place on a baking tray cut side up, and roast for 30-35 minutes at 350°F. Cool until cool enough to handle, but still warm, and peel off the shells. This soup has a tendency to thicken over time, so dilute it with water as needed.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion (about one medium onion)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 2 large ribs)
  • 4 cups chopped fennel (about 2 large bulbs)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 good cooking apples (I used fuji. Jonagold, Jonathan, Golden delicious, or Braeburn would be good, do NOT use red delicious), peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or a teaspoon of dried)
  • 15 to 16 ounces of peeled roasted chestnuts (jarred is best), chopped (do NOT use water chestnuts)
  • 4 cups chicken stock (low sodium)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp of Pernod or Ricard pastis (optional)
  • 2 or 3 Tbsp of sour cream (more or less to taste)
  • Sprigs of fennel fronds for garnish

Method

chestnut-fennel-soup-1

1 Melt butter in a large, thick-bottomed pot (6 to 8 qt) on medium heat. Stir in the chopped onion, celery, and fennel.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent and the fennel and celery softened, about 10 minutes.

chestnut-fennel-soup-2 chestnut-fennel-soup-3 chestnut-fennel-soup-4 chestnut-fennel-soup-5

2 Stir in the chopped roasted chestnuts, chopped apples, and thyme. Add the chicken stock and water. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

3 Working in batches, purée in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. Remember to fill the blender bowl no more than halfway, and keep your hand pressing down on the top of the blender lid, or the pressure from blending the hot liquid may cause the soup to splatter everywhere.

4 If too thick, add more water to thin to the consistency you desire. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the Pernod or Pastis if using (or other anise flavored liqueur). Either stir in sour cream, or dilute the sour cream and drizzle over the bowls at service.

Serve hot, garnish with fennel fronds.

 

Links:

Daniel Boulud's Chestnut Soup from Dorie Greenspan
Chestnut and Mushroom Soup from A Communal Table

Chestnut Soup with Fennel on Simply Recipes

10 Comments

  1. Joanne @ Fifteen Spatulas

    Oh Elise you photographed this soup so beautifully! I have been making more soup lately (trying to eat soup and salad more) but it’s so tough to photograph! Love the idea of chestnuts and fennel together. My mom always roasted chestnuts for me and my brothers when we were growing up. They are so wonderful!

    • Elise

      Thanks Joanne! You’re so lucky your mom roasted chestnuts for you. I never had them until I was an adult and bought some from a street vendor in New York. Love them.

  2. Gerry @ Foodness Gracious

    I’ve never had chestnuts before :( but I do remember playing with them as a kid, we’d punch a hole in them and tie a shoelace through the middle. Each person had to strike the others chestnut..first one to break their opponents was the winner, great memories!

    • Lesley Valerio

      Gerry @ Foodness Gracious – Somehow I do not think these were sweet chestnuts (edible), but horse chestnuts (inedible and commonly known as conkers), dont confuse or mix the two!!! These two different nuts come from two different trees.

  3. Nancy Singleton Hachisu

    I love the story about the exploding chestnuts. One of the few mishaps I have miraculously avoided in the kitchen though I will never forget the eel slipping and sliding around. Somehow I never end up using our chestnuts…I have to remedy this. Thank you for reminding me. I see that we ran out of room in one of the freezers so the bag from this autumn is now sitting on the floor. Must be more diligent.

  4. Peter

    While searching online for new soup recipes I found this one and couldn’t wait to try it. My wife and I both love chestnuts and I’m always looking for different ways to use them. I just finished making this soup and it’s delicious! Can’t wait for dinner tonight when my wife will have a chance to have some.
    Like your story with the exploding chestnuts I once had a similar experience with hot soup in a blender and I’ve been very cautious since then. When making this soup I used an immersion blender and it worked beautifully.
    Looking forward to trying more of your recipes. You have a great blog!

  5. Rosie

    I made this last night and it was delicious. I followed the recipe exactly but omitted the pastis/pernod because a) I didn’t have any-I haveSambucca and could’ve used that but more importantly b) was feeding a 5year old and since the alcohol wans’t being cooked out, was reluctant to add it to the finished dish. Regardless, we all loved it-5yr old included! Thanks so much.

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