Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chestnuts Roasting: Merry Christmas!

Surprise!  It’s Christmas, I’m not busy, and in our house it’s all about the food, so naturally I thought of you. This will be brief, but loaded with butter and wine.

Christmas Eve is when we have our big dinner; even for the seasonally small family of me and my son out here in Tucson, it is big, probably too much so. But as Bob Cratchit said, it’s only once a year.

So what did we have?  A number of years ago my son and I shifted away from our usual very English Prime Rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, creamed onions, pies, plum pudding, etc., etc. (very good, mind) to doing something different every year. Last year was one of our all-time great dinners, themed around my first year in the Southwest (and thank you, Bobby Flay, for inspiration). A simple dinner in my son’s tiny New York apartment in 2010 was another.  Generally, the meal does still center around beef, though. But this year I got a text from my son a few weeks ago asking, “Can we have rack of lamb for Christmas?”  Sure, why not?  So after talking options for approach—Southwest again, Middle Eastern, French—we settled on the classic: French.

Here’s the four-course menu—served with French wines (a white burgundy and a good Haut-Medoc), with a Warre 1994 vintage port with our dessert—and a recipe for the soup, a favorite of mine. Jordan really liked the ice cream:

Chestnut Soup with Herbed Puff Pastry Twists

Salad of red leaf, radicchio, fennel, and leek with maple-pomegranate vinaigrette

Rack of Lamb Persillade with Fig Sauce
Duchesse Potatoes
Glazed Onions
Haricots vertes  with hazelnut butter and thyme

Coconut-ginger ice cream with truffles and cookies

Happy Holidays, and happy eating, to all.

Chestnut Soup

This is a delicious and somewhat luxurious soup, suited to the season.  You can make it ahead; add the cream when you reheat if you do. Serves 6-8 (6 rim soup, or 1-cup, portions).

        3 tablespoons unsalted butter
        1/2 cup each finely chopped celery, carrot, and onion
        A few sprigs flat-leaf parsley
        3-4  whole cloves
        1 large dried bay leaf--make sure it is new
        6 cups chicken stock, on the light side
        3 cups cooked whole chestnuts, peeled and crumbled; you can do them fresh, or buy jarred or vacuum-
        1/4 cup tawny port or Madeira 
        1/4 cup heavy cream
        1/4 teaspoon black pepper and a little salt

        Fennel tops or chopped parsley for garnish

      Make a bouquet garni: Tie the parsley, cloves, and bay leaf up in a piece of cheesecloth.

Melt the butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, add the chopped celery, carrot, and onion, and cover the vegetables with a buttered round of wax paper, buttered side down. Cover the pan and sweat the vegetables until soft, about 15 minutes.

Discard the wax paper. Add the stock and bouquet garni to the pan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Add chestnuts (you can crumble them in with your hands at this point) and the port or Madeira. Simmer, covered, for about 3 minutes.

In a large food processor or blender, purée in 3 or 4 batches  until smooth, transferring each batch to a bowl. Place a strainer over a clean 3- to 4-quart saucepan and strain the puréed soup into the pan. Reheat, and add the cream, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning.

Garnish with the small feathery fronds of fennel or some chopped parsley. You could also float a little round of puff paste or a star-shaped crouton, or a disc of parsley butter.