Velvety Pear Chestnut Soup

Velvety Pear Chestnut Soup

October 29, 2015

Though we departed Denver during the sweetest days of just-waning summer, the air in Zurich and Lucerne was already brisk and chill, warning of cool winter days to come.

The leaves were changing colors, almost as we watched, and wisps of smoke ambled lazily from ancient chimneys. Broken chestnut shells crunched underfoot, as the tailored trees lining the river and hillsides in Lucerne littered the ground with their fruit. Id never seen a chestnut pod before, the shells jagged with sharp spikes, and curiously large.

….

Fall had beaten us to Switzerland when we arrived in late September.

Though we departed Denver during the sweetest days of just-waning summer, the air in Zurich and Lucerne was already brisk and chill, warning of cool winter days to come.

The leaves were changing colors, almost as we watched, and wisps of smoke ambled lazily from ancient chimneys. Broken chestnut shells crunched underfoot, as the tailored trees lining the river and hillsides in Lucerne littered the ground with their fruit. I’d never seen a chestnut pod before, the shells jagged with sharp spikes, and curiously large.

Velvety Pear Chestnut Soup

One day, we wandered from the city center to explore the Musegg wall and towers, remnants of medieval fortification that stood stony and stalwart against the passage of time. The great wall loomed overhead as we traipsed under cover of century-old trees, across mossy, fallen logs and through piles of sunset leaves. All around us, in great heaps, were chestnuts – some still snugly encased in their spiked shells, others peeking out of split casings, baskets and baskets worth.

Velvety Pear Chestnut Soup

Vermicelles, traditional Swiss confection made with sweetened chestnut cream (with a touch of kirsch) piped into a pastry shell and topped with whipped cream

The time-capsule town of Lucerne knew exactly what to do with their seasonal bounty. On every menu, chestnuts were whirred into soups, candied atop patisserie, or blended into pastry cream. They accented dishes of boar and complemented the earthy sweetness of braised cabbage, and were sold roasted and bare from wooden stands.

Our last night in Switzerland, late in the evening, we wandered under the full moon, savoring the play of light over the wooden bridges and swans passing downstream in the darkness. While most of the shops and restaurants had tucked in for the night, a lone shack stood awake at the edge of the river wafting the deep, earthen fragrance of roasted chestnuts.

Velvety Pear Chestnut Soup

We fished out our last swiss coins and settled on the cobblestoned bank of the Reuss, the parchment bag radiating warmth. Shoulder to shoulder, Jason and I plucked the meaty chestnuts out of their pre-split shells and munched silently on the satisfying, starchy treats as the river flowed past. Woodsy and earthy and the lightest touch sweet, the flavor of chestnuts in the moonlight is the essence of fall.

Velvety Pear Chestnut Soup

This soup captures that essence, and is ideal on a day when frost-tinged breezes are knocking leaves from the trees. With notes of earth and wood from the roasted chestnuts and a touch of musky sweetness from the pears, this soup is kissed with a hint of fall spices from apple cider. The brown butter crumbs and fried sage leaves add depth and a savoriness that pull the soup back from the brink of sweetness. A sprinkling of pomegranate arils would be a lovely addition as well!

Eat and be warm!

Velvety Pear Chestnut Soup
Serves 2
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Total Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr
FOR SOUP
  1. 1 7.4 oz jar roasted chestnuts (I used La Forestiere)* or 1 heaping cup of peeled, roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
  2. 2 pears, roughly chopped
  3. 1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  4. 1 cup spiced apple cider
  5. 1/2 cup white wine
  6. 3 cups chicken stock
  7. 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  8. Olive Oil
FOR GARNISH
  1. Slice of stale bread, roughly chopped into crumbs
  2. 1/4 cup sage leaves
  3. 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  4. pomegranate arils (optional)
Instructions
  1. Heat up a swirl of olive oil (1-2 Tbsp) in a Dutch oven or soup pot, then add chopped onions, pears and chestnuts. Season with salt, then saute until onions are translucent, 5-10 mins.
  2. Deglaze by pouring in wine and apple cider. Reduce by half.
  3. Add 2 cups chicken stock, reserving one cup. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. As the soup simmers, heat two tablespoons unsalted butter in a small pan or saucepan. Heat, swirling occasionally, until butter is lightly browned and smells like toasted nuts.
  5. Fry your sage leaves in a single layer in the butter, pressing each leaf down into the butter. Let sizzle for a short amount of time, approximately ten seconds, then remove and place on a paper towel. Add bread crumbs, toss to coat, then toast for 30 seconds - 1 minute until browned. Remove and place on paper towel, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
  6. Check on the soup - if chestnuts can be easily mashed and broken with a wooden spoon, it is time to puree! Using an immersion blender**, puree until completely smooth. Check the consistency - if you like your soup to be more loose, add the reserved chicken stock and stir until you reach the desired consistency. Add 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, and stir to combine. Taste, seasoning with additional salt and pepper.
  7. Portion into bowls, then top with bread crumbs and fried sage leaves.
Notes
  1. * Chestnuts can be tricky to find, at least in Denver and the south, in my experience. Try a specialty food store like Sur la Table, Williams & Sonoma, Whole Foods or Central Market, or even the baking aisle at your normal grocery store (they may carry them during the holidays). You can also roast your own, though peeling can be a bit tricky.
  2. ** A food processor (working in batches) or blender will also work!
Delicious in Denver http://deliciousindenver.com/

Mexican Hot Chocolate

October 15, 2015

It’s only been a day since we left Playa del Carmen, and I’m already missing the flavors of Mexico (not to mention the luxurious summer heat, the lazy days by the pool, our palatial hotel bathroom, and the pleasures of room service and housekeeping :-P).

Though I’ve always loved Mexican food (or really, Tex-Mex, which is a totally different animal), I’ve always skewed more French or classic American with my cooking at home. Mexican food is so delicious and affordable at restaurants, we usually just default to that when a craving strikes (which is often); but after having exceptional coastal Mexican cuisine at our fingertips all weekend, I’m thinking I may need to expand my repertoire!

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