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      RECIPE TITLE "Creamy Pumpkin-Chestnut Soup" Author: Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley with Melissa Clark. Copyright © 2000 by Peter Berley

    yields 6 servings time--- difficulty easy

    Chestnuts were once a staple of the simple diets of working people living in the northern parts of Italy and the Swiss Alps. After the decline of the Roman Empire, when wheat was no longer available and the Spanish hadn't yet brought back corn from the New World, pasta, bread, and polenta were all made from chestnut flour. Sadly, a disease destroyed nearly all of the chestnut trees in the United States and the delicious nuts now have to be imported. Nothing smells more like late autumn to me than the smoky, sweet scent of roasting chestnuts on the sidewalks of New York.


    1 pound fresh chestnuts
    3 tablespoons light sesame or extra-virgin olive oil
    2 cups diced onions
    4 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash or pumpkin (1-inch pieces)
    4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
    Pinch hot red pepper flakes (optional)
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 large sprig fresh rosemary
    1 bay leaf
    6 cups water
    1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper


    1. In a saucepan over high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Score the chestnuts by making an "X" with the tip of a sharp knife. Drop the chestnuts into the saucepan and boil for 30 minutes, or until they peel easily. Drain them in a colander and cool briefly under cold running water. Peel the chestnuts, reserve the meat, and discard the shells.
    2. In a heavy 3- to 4-quart soup pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and sauté for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the chestnuts, squash, garlic, and red pepper. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
    3. Make a bouquet garni by tying together with kitchen twine or wrapping in cheesecloth the cinnamon, rosemary, and bay leaf.
    4. Add the water and bouquet garni and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the squash and chestnuts are tender. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Add the vinegar.
    5. Transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender and purée until creamy. (To avoid painful splatter burns, never fill a blender more than halfway when pureeing hot foods, or purée the soup in the pot with an immersion blender.)
    6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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