Monday, December 19, 2011

Lighten up, it's just Christmas

While driving in traffic this week, I took the opportunity to change radio stations and mistakenly let a car length fill between me and the car in front.  As I moved my foot from the brake, I heard a honk from behind and glanced backwards only to receive a creative hand wave.  A bit later that afternoon, the husband pulled into the street only to be gestured and hollered at from what would have been a very sweet looking old lady. Add to this the scenes at the shopping mall and the facebook venting, it's clear that it's Christmas time in the city.

What does this have to do with food? Browsing the aisles of Whole Foods, I came across a beautiful bag of chestnuts and remembered a soup I made nearly two years ago when the dinner party marathon was in its earlier chapters.  Inspired, I picked up a bag and the remaining ingredients.  As I reminisced on the recipe, I recalled a labor intensive chestnut peel... imagining it was no worse than rolling out a pie crust I moved forward.  Without stress or procrastination I dove into this progress early Sunday afternoon and immediately remembered a whole different experience.  You have two choices when peeling chestnuts: straight from the steamer, you peel back the skin and dig out the scalding nut pieces, or once cooled you saw through the tightened skin to dig out nut pieces. Needless to say, it is clear that time filed down the memories of this prep, and while we enjoyed a good bowl of soup yesterday, we will not enjoy it again for another year.  

Christmas is a few days away.  Dubbed the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the suicide hotlines busiest evening.  I can only hope that all of us let time file down the memories enough to move lightly into the new celebrations.  If not, well... there are always pre-peeled chestnuts.

Chestnut and Celery Root Soup 
with Sage Croutons and Bacon
Recipe By: Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Soup
Budget Note: I consistently freeze the ends of bread loaves giving me great options for bread crumbs, stuffing on in this case, croutons. Enjoying a more rustic feel, I don't cut the crusts off of my croutons.  

1/2 loaf good quality french or italian bread
2 TB unsalted butter
2 TB olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tsp. fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 slices bacon
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 tsp celery seed
6 cups chicken broth
1 celery root, peeled and chopped
1 15-ounce jar steamed chestnuts
1/2 cup half and half

  1. Cut off and discard crusts from the bread (optional). Cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes; you should have about 4 cups bread cubes.
  2. In a large frying pan, melt 1 TB of the butter with the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the garlic and half of the sage and cook gently until the garlic is light golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Remove and discard the garlic.  Raise the heat to medium, add 1/4 tsp salt and the bread cubes, and stir to coat the cubes with the flavored oil. Cook, stirring and tossing often, until the croutons are crisp and toasted 10-12 minutes. 
  3. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined.  
  4. Pour off all but 2 TB of the bacon grease, and return to medium heat.  Add the remaining 1 TB of butter, the onion and the celery and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.  Add the celery seed and cook stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the stock, raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. 
  5. Add the celery root and chestnuts and return to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the celery root is tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, crumble the bacon and set aside. 
  6. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and process until a smooth puree.  (You can also use an immersion blender.)  Pour the puree into a clean pot and add the half and half, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste.  Place over medium-low heat and cook gently until heated through, about 10 minutes.  
  7. Ladle into warm bowls, garnish with bacon, croutons and the remaining sage.  Serve right away. 
For all of its drama, this is an amazing soup.  Creamy without being heavy, this is a wonderful holiday lunch.  It's all about the right nut, as it always seems to be this time of year. 

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