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Seasonal Spanish Food
by Jose Pizarro
The European chestnut tree is also known as the Spanish chestnut, perhaps due to the large forests to be found in Galicia and, to a lesser extent, in Andalucia. You might suppose from its name that a chestnut is a nut. Well, its shape might suggest as much, but true nuts have a fat content of 45 to 55 percent and are low in carbohydrates, whereas the chestnut contains more like 1 percent fat and about 80 percent carbohydrate. It is about as starchy as wheat, so it's no surprise it's sometimes known as "the grain that grows on a tree."
You can use chestnuts in a very similar way to potatoes; for example, they are excellent mashed and served with a game casserole. In the following recipe, they add a subtle, smoky sweetness to the mushroom soup.
This is a really autumnal recipe. Try to use best-quality smoked bacon or pancetta if you can.
· 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
· 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
· 14 oz mixed mushrooms, chopped
· 7 oz cooked and peeled chestnuts, coarsely crumbled
· 1 quart chicken stock, warmed
· salt and freshly ground black pepper
· 4 slices smoked bacon or pancetta, chopped
· 1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
· 2 thyme sprigs, leaves stripped
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and cook the garlic until soft. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until browned. Stir in the chestnuts and cook for another 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium to high heat and cook the bacon pieces until brown and crisp. Set aside to drain on paper towels.
Once the mushrooms are cooked, use a hand blender to puree the soup; add the vinegar, give it a stir, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Divide the soup between four warmed bowls. Scatter the thyme leaves and bacon pieces over the top and eat immediately.
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