November 1st, All Saints’ Day, is a public holiday in France and the villages used to toll their bells whilst the population said prayers all night for their departed. They would sustain themselves with freshly picked chestnuts, which have always been a popular foodstuff in France. Chestnut fairs are popular in the autumn and this recipe is from Limousin, where this is typical, seasonal fare.
450g large chestnuts
1 tsp olive oil
2 ½ pints water
2 large onions finely chopped
2 leeks, trimmed, washed & sliced
1 large waxy potato, peeled & chopped
125ml single cream
1 oz butter
salt and pepper
1. Nick the shells of the chestnuts with a sharp knife. Put them in a large saucepan with a pinch of salt and the oil. Cover with water and bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and remove the shells and inner skin as soon as they are cool enough to handle.
2. Rinse the pan. Pour in the water and add the prepared chestnuts and vegetables. Season with a little salt and pepper, then slowly bring to the boil and simmer gently for 40 minutes or until the chestnuts and vegetables are cooked.
3. Pass the chestnuts and vegetables through a sieve or liquidize with a little of the liquid. Return the pure to the pan and stir in the liquid.
4. Stir in the cream and heat through gently, without letting the soup come to the boil. Check he seasoning, swirl in the butter and serve whilst hot.
You can use tinned chestnuts, which come ready prepared so are very easy to use, although they are expensive compared to the fresh variety.