I serve Thanksgiving at 3:00 in the afternoon, which means my house guests are inhaling intoxicating aromas and licking their chops by noontime. To soothe them, and still keep them interested in the coming feast, I offer my loved ones an elegant chestnut soup for lunch. Except for the garnish, this soup can be made a day or two in advance. In fact, it’s better if you do make it ahead. Also, in its favor, the flavors of this appetizer beautifully complement the traditional Thanksgiving menu.
Since there are very few ingredients in this dish, it is so helpful to use a rich homemade chicken broth and lightly smoked bacon (I like applewood smoked bacon). Remember that the salinity of your broth and the bacon will determine how much salt and pepper you need to add at the end. Of course, you can roast and peel your own fresh chestnuts and the chestnut flavor will be even more pronounced, but it is perfectly fine and easy to use already peeled and roasted chestnuts which are available at most grocery stores during November and December.
Please notice this soup has no dairy in it at all so if any of your guests are lactose intolerant, this first course is a winner.
- 8-10 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
- 10 ounces peeled roasted chestnuts, plus 5 sliced chestnuts reserved
- 2 slices smoked bacon cut into three pieces
- 4 sprigs fennel, plus a few sprigs for garnish
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the chestnuts, bacon, fennel sprigs and pinch of salt and pepper to taste (The amount of seasoning depends on how salty your chicken broth is.)
- Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat. Discard fennel and bacon.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chestnuts to a food processor. Add 2-3 cups of broth and process to a smooth puree.
- Pour the puree into a clean saucepan and add enough hot broth to thin the puree to your liking. Whisk this mixture together. Taste and correct seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if desired.
- To garnish this soup, heat olive oil in a pan and panfry the sliced chestnuts. (They should sizzle in the pan and this should take about a minute.) Carefully place three or four sizzled chestnuts on top of soup, along with a thin sprig of fennel and serve.