Castania sativa - Sweet chestnut
Fortune favoured us when we found some fresh Sweet chestnuts in a shop that were left over from the Christmas period. They make a tasty stuffing for the turkey, but we also enjoy them made into a nourishing, wholesome soup. The generic name Castania was derived from an ancient town called Castanis in Asia Minor, now Turkey, where Sweet Chestnut trees grew in abundance. The ancient Greeks called it "the acorn of Zeus". The nuts are such a good source of food that in many Mediterranean countries they were a staple food, often dried and ground into flour. Poorer people used to subsist largely on a diet of chestnuts.
The armies of Alexander the Great and then the Romans planted sweet
chestnut trees across much of Europe, so that they could enjoy
this treat of nature wherever they were.
Chestnut Soup - serves 4
500 mls milk
freshly ground black pepper & nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
one large onion finely chopped with a clove of garlic cooked in olive or rapseed oil
250 mls vegetable stock
toasted pine nuts & parsley to serve
slit a cross through the chestnuts shells with a sharp knife before roasting in the oven for 30mins at 180℃. It is important to do this, if you don't you will have a miniature war taking place inside your oven as the chestnuts explod !!!
Whilst they are roasting, cook the onion and garlic in oil until soft, add the milk, vegetable stock and spices, then gently heat them all up. Before it reaches boiling point turn the heat right down and let them infuse. When the chestnuts are ready, wrap them up in a teatowel and allow them to cool before getting the nut out of the shell. Add the chestnuts to the liquid, and cook them all gently together but don't boil, and then purée with a stick blender. This is a rich and elegant soup with a velvety texture. A small portion makes a lovely starter, whilst a larger serving with some lovely bread is a very satisfying lunch or supper.
P.S if you can't stand the thought of preparing and roasting the chestnuts, I know that they are a fiddle. You can buy very good whole roasted chestnuts already prepared in specially sealed vacuum packs. They work very well too.
Next post will be about a fruit that has strong links to the ancient Greeks.