Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chestnut Mushroom Soup

When Thanksgiving rolls around, everyone in my family is expected to pitch in. The host makes the turkey, someone else makes sides, you get the idea. For the last several years my commission has been soup. But not just any soup, my chestnut mushroom soup. Chestnuts scream that the holiday season is upon us and they are also the source of the wonderful richness of the soup. The first time I made this recipe I was asked how much cream I used...but there is none in the recipe and I'm sure that if you try it you'll agree it completely unnecessary. 2 other things are especially notable about the soup: it's easy to make and it's extremely flexible to different variations.

I've reproduced the recipe for the latest batch of my holiday soup...I hope you enjoy.

1 jar whole chestnuts (14.8 oz) - I've roasted fresh chestnuts and they are honestly not worth the hassle.

1 oz. dried mushrooms (rehydrated), liquid reserved -- I used mixed wild mushrooms for my latest batch, but you can use any variety you might have on hand

(mushrooms and chestnuts, pictured at left)

4 cups chicken/vegetable stock -- chicken stock is richer, but it's you can make this dish vegetarian by using vegetable stock and not lose much

3 cups celery, chopped

3/4 cup onion, chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in dutch oven or pot (at least 4 qt. capacity). After oil is heated, add chopped celery and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the contents turn translucent, approximately 10 minutes.

2. Add stock, chestnuts, rehydrated mushrooms and reserved mushroom liquid (if the liquid looks gritty, be careful not to add the grit). Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, for 30 minutes.

3. Let soup cool. Puree in blender. Add additional salt and pepper (if necessary). Reheat and enjoy.

(picture is pre-puree...kinda forgot about the "finished" pic...sigh...)
Yields: approximately 8 cups

Tips: I tend to "under-season" in step 1 because as Mom taught me, you can always add more, if needed. going in the opposite direction...not so easy.

I will often sautee thinly sliced mushrooms in olive oil and place 2-3 strips as a garnish on top of the bowl. It's a nice presentation. You can also garnsih with finely chopped chestnuts or parsley.

You can stretch the soup a bit by adding more stock. This is pretty rich, so thinning it out a bit won't hurt much.

If you want an extra-special treat, sautee some bacon (preferably thick cut), removing it from the pan when it first starts to crisp. Then, sautee the veggies in the bacon fat instead of olive oil in step 1 and follow the recipe as written above and garnish with the bacon.

Wine - Condessa de Sarabella Garnacha 2005


Today's wine is another Trader Joe's special. This little dandy is a Spanish garnacha (grenache)was only $3.99 and yes, the price was the primary motivation for buying the wine. Let's be clear, I like good wine. I also like expensive wine. But not all expensive wine is good and not all good wine is expensive. If I'm enjoying a bottle with friends, I'm usually willing to shell out a little more money for a nice bottle. But when I'm just having a glass by myself, I like the mystery that goes along with opening a bottle of unknown quality.

First impressions: I like the label. I like label art quite a bit (Imagery produces the most amzing label art on a consistent basis and their wines are pretty freaking delicious too). I've posted a photograph so you can draw your own conclusions. Pouring the wine into the glass yields a medium-dark reddish-purple liquid. The nose suggests blueberry and maybe just a bit of heat. The bottle says it's 13.9% alcohol, so it's not too bad. A quick Internet search let me know that the grenache grape tends to be a bit alcohol-y (is that a word? It is now), so it seems par for the course.

Hmm, this is a hard one to pin down. This wine doesn't show much fruit up front. It's a little restrained and a bit hot from the alcohol. Further sipping showed some blueberry, strawberry and a little spice. Not too much of a finish. I'm very undecided about this wine. I can't tell if I like the restraint or if I'm desperate to taste more fruit. When I remember what I paid, I decide that the good outweighs the bad.

Taste: 5/10

Value: 8/10