The earthy aroma of chestnuts are synonymous with fall. If fresh chestnuts are not available, and even if they are but you don’t want to fuss with peeling the fresh ones, vacuum-packed chestnuts work perfectly.
1 1/2 pounds fresh chestnuts or 14 ounces vacuum-packed, peeled chestnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 small rib celery, diced
1 leek, white and light green stem only, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
5 cups chicken broth or stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
Pinch ground nutmeg
1. If using vacuum-packed chestnuts, skip to step #2. For fresh chestnuts: Preheat the oven to 400°F, or bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, slice an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Place them on a baking sheet and roast in the pre-heated oven, or boil them until the outer skin begins to curl, 10 to 12 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the outer and inner layers of skin from the chestnuts and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery, leek, and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, thyme, bay leaf, and peeled chestnuts. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes until the chestnuts are soft and can be poked with the tip of a knife or with a fork.
3. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender, in batches if necessary and puree the soup. Add back to the saucepan and stir in the half and half, brandy, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Serve immediately. Can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Reheat just before serving, being careful not to boil.