Silky Chestnut Soup with Torn Croutons

6 servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium carrot chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cups cooked chestnuts (about 1.5 pounds unpeeled chestnuts)*
1 cup Ruby Port
3 springs thyme
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the carrot, celery and onion and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the chestnuts and cook for about 4 minutes.  Add the port and thyme sprigs and cook over medium heat until the port is reduced by half, about 4 minutes.  Add the stock and bring to a simmer.  Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. 

Discard the thyme sprigs.   Insert an immersion blender into the soup and puree it.  (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the soup to a blender and puree and return soup to the pot.)  Return soup to a simmer, add the cream to the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into bowls and top with croutons.

* To cook the chestnuts, soak them in a bowl of warm water for 20 minutes.  Slash them with a sharp knife almost all the way around and peel off the husk and inner skin.  Simmer in water for 25 minutes and drain.

 If you don't want to use whole raw chestnuts, you could use 16 ounces of cooked chestnuts (available at Willliams Sonoma). 

Torn Croutons

adapted from Ad Hoc at Home

1/2 large loaf of country bread
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cut the crusts off the loaf of bread.  Tear the bread into irregular pieces no larger than 2 inches.  Pour about 1/4 cup olive oil into a large saute pan and add the garlic cloves.  Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.  Remove garlic cloves.  Spread the bread in a single layer in the pan.  Add the butter.  The oil and butter should be bubbling, but if you hear sizzling, the heat is too high.  Adjust the heat as necessary, and stir the croutons often as they cook.  Cook until the croutons are crisp and a beautiful rich golden brown on all sides, 15 to 20 minutes.   

The Italian Dish