The first time we ever tried roasting chestnuts, my husband and I bought some on a whim at the grocery store ("Hey, look, chestnuts! Just like in that song!"). We spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Unfortunately, we didn’t know you must cut a slit in the shell of the chestnut to release steam. In a few minutes chestnuts were going off like fireworks, ricocheting around inside the oven with deep booming explosions. What a mess that was!
We learned our lesson that day, but we never gave up on chestnuts. They are absolutely delicious roasted and eaten out of hand as a snack, or puréed into a rich, golden soup.
1 lb. fresh chestnuts
4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 TB olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 celery, diced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
¾ tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Preheat the oven to 475º. Cut an "x" in the shell of each chestnut with a sharp paring knife. Arrange the chestnuts on a baking sheet with the unpeeled garlic cloves. Roast for 20 minutes, until the outer shell has pulled slightly away from the chestnut and the shell and the inner skin peel away easily.
Remove the outer shell and inner skin of each chestnut and place them in a bowl. Work quickly while the chestnuts are still hot (hold them with a kitchen towel if they are too hot to touch). Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the garlic cloves and add it to the bowl with the chestnuts. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, fresh thyme, and bay leaves. Sauté, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chestnuts and garlic and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves and let the soup cool slightly. Transfer the soup to a Vita-Mix or other blender, in batches if necessary, and purée until the soup is completely smooth. Pour the soup into a clean saucepan and add the salt, nutmeg, and white pepper. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring. Taste for salt and serve.