In Italy, fresh chestnuts are common around the holidays, used in everything from pastas to meat dishes, to desserts. But they are far less popular in the US, maybe in part because we aren’t as familiar with how to cook them. Fresh chestnuts can be tough when eaten whole, but when pureed, their flavor is rich, nutty and sweet.
In this recipe, I’ve paired them with butternut squash, which complements the chestnut’s earthy sweetness. This soup is thick and creamy, thanks to a swirl of heavy cream stirred before serving for good measure. A final sprinkle of pancetta, fresh chives, and ground nutmeg make this an especially festive soup for the holidays.
This soup would make a lovely first course for Christmas dinner, ladled into small bowls or teacups, or a satisfying lunch with toasted bread on the side. Or, you could serve it in little glasses as an hors d’oeuvre, as my uncle does each year on Christmas Eve.
(a version of this post first appeared in Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine, Fall 2023 issue)
Creamy Squash and Chestnut Soup
- 6 cups cubed butternut squash (about 1 ½ pounds)
- 1 crisp apple, cored and large-diced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (4-ounce) package cubed pancetta
- 2 cups thinly sliced shallots (4 to 6 shallots)
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cups peeled, roasted chestnuts (about 10 ounces) SEE TIP
- ⅓ cup dry sherry
- 4 cups chicken broth (1 quart)
- ¼ cup heavy cream, plus more for serving
- Minced fresh chives, for serving
- Ground nutmeg, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the butternut squash and apple on the sheet pan and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper and toss. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the squash is caramelized and tender.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until browned and crisp, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.
- Add the shallots and thyme to the Dutch oven, along with an additional tablespoon or two of olive oil if the pan looks dry. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts and sherry, and cook, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the sherry has almost completely evaporated. Set aside off the heat until the squash is finished roasting.
- Add the squash, apples, and chicken broth to the Dutch oven. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Off the heat, use an immersion blender to puree the soup until completely smooth. (Alternatively, you can cool the soup slightly, then transfer to a blender and puree, working in batches if necessary. After blending, return the soup to the pot.)
- Stir in the heavy cream and add more salt and pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, add a splash of water to loosen. Serve the soup hot, garnished with the reserved pancetta, a swirl of cream, fresh chives and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Tip: Jarred chestnuts work well for this recipe but if you'd like to roast your own, here's how: Start with 1 1/4 pound whole chestnuts. With a sharp paring knife, carefully make an x-shape cut in each shell. Roast on a sheet pan for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, until the skins are beginning to curl and the chestnuts are tender. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a dish towel, and set aside to cool until just cool enough to handle before peeling. (The chestnuts will be much harder to peel when completely cool.)