Last week I had the opportunity to volunteer at a Soup Sisters event. Soup Sisters is a non-profit charitable social enterprise that brings people together to make soup which gets distributed to local shelters serving women and children. You can find out more information here. The Soup Sisters also have a cookbook with some amazing recipes and a sturdy front end section that covers all types of techniques and tricks. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy; the book is available at Amazon, Chapters, and as a kindle book. I wanted to make the mushroom and chestnut soup on page 30 and as usual ended up taking a few liberties with the recipe choosing not to puree the soup, changing the garnish of fresh porcini to shemeji, and adding the mushroom soaking liquid to the soup instead of tossing it.
Chestnuts are in season and I had picked up some beauties at the local Italian market. Chestnuts can be a lot of work; I had forgotten that from last year. You can buy them already cleaned and vacuum packed but that takes the fun out of things. It’s one step further away from gathering them from the forest or boulevard or park. To prepare chestnuts take a sharp paring knife and cut an X on to the flat side. Then place them in boiling water for a few minutes until the edges of the X start to open up. Drain the chestnuts and peel them using a knife to help you take the tough outer skin off. They are easier to peel if they are still warm. Chestnuts also have an inner brown skin which can sometimes be a pain to get off. To get this inner skin off just place the chestnuts in boiling water again (in small batches of 5 or so) for a minute and you will be able to peel them easily. If you leave them in the water too long the skins seem to get waterlogged and stick horribly to the chestnuts. If that is the case try rubbing with a tea towel.
I also took the extra step and made some vegetable stock with some odds and ends. The dried porcini have a lot of flavour on their own but making a vegetable stock allowed me to sneak in some additional flavours in the soup, namely celery and carrots, without having bits of those vegetables in the soup. I added scraps of onion, dried out button mushrooms and onion skins which gave the sock a deep colour. When making stock keep it at a minimum simmer, not a rolling boil. I started the stock first to give it some time to brew while I peeled chestnuts.
The other main ingredient, mushrooms, is also seasonal if found or purchased wild. It’s easy to forget that mushrooms are seasonal when they are cultivated and available to us year round. Mushroom hunting is so much fun; more about that in a future post. The recipe called for dried porcini mushrooms. You can forage for them and dry them yourself or purchase them. They are pricy but worth it for the flavour which is like no other mushroom, and they will keep for a long time. Foraged or purchased they will have a bit of grit so be sure to rinse them in a colander under running water before using.
This soup is wonderfully textured with a complex flavour from the chestnuts, porcini, some wonderful dried thyme from the summer garden, heavy cream, and truffle oil. Luxury!