The first time I ever witnessed someone actually swoon over food was at Pino Posteraro’s “Cioppino’s”. On the other side of sixty, she had walked in wearing a swanky denim pantsuit, with a blond flip of a hairdo. She sat talking with her friends as they poured over the menu, just as we were, one table over. We had been considering the Mushroom & Chestnut Soup on offer. The chef had recently won the Gold Medal Plate Award for this very soup. While waiting for our dinner to arrive, she was served a bowl of this same soup. She lifted a spoonful into her mouth, and she just stopped. People at her table kept talking but she only had eyes for her soup. I think she ate the whole of it without speaking. I could hardly wait for my serving. It was the best soup I have ever eaten. This restaurant is well known for its incredibly fresh produce. Racks of tomatoes stand ready for sauces, with huge boxes of other veg, ready to go.
I knew that I couldn’t possibly replicate the recipe, even with it at hand, as buying produce of that quality and freshness can rarely happen at our local produce market. But, even with knowing that mine would never measure up, I have religiously made this soup once a year since (when chestnuts are available). Always tweaking it a bit, but it wasn’t until this year when I added some apple that it became so very, very close to the soup we had that evening. All I can think is that the apple added in the freshness that it had been lacking before.
Serves 6 – 8
2 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
250 gr chestnuts, peeled, skinned & chopped
500 gr russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1.5 litres veg stock (or chicken stock)
1 large apple, such as Lady Alice, Gala or Ambrosia, peeled & chopped
a large handful of parsley, leaves & tender stems
salt to season
3 slices of black olive bread, crust removed, & cubed
2 t melted butter
good quality extra virgin olive oil for final drizzle
Peeling the chestnuts: there are many ways to do this, but essentially cut the outer shell, and either steam or boil them for 8 minutes or so. Peel off the shell, and slip off the skins. If the skins aren’t ready to slip off, cook them a couple of minutes longer. Any resistant bits can simply be pared off.
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat.
Add in the chopped onion and celery.
Cook for 10 minutes until wilted and glazed, stirring several times.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 35 minutes.
Cool slightly, and process.
Season to taste with salt.
Return to a gentle boil, and reduce to a simmer, ready for serving.
Croutons – prepare while soup is simmering before processing.
Preheat oven to 450°
Toss the bread cubes with the melted butter.
Spread the cubes on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake for 8 minutes, until golden.
Arrange a portion of croutons on each bowl of soup.
Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil.
Swoon, or simply enjoy.