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FRESHIE FAVES: Chestnuts

Have you ever imagined yourself curled up in front of an open fire, just like the “Christmas Song” roasting chestnuts and being one with the holiday season? It sounds so cozy but the reality is that I do not know what the heck to do with a chestnut.  This is where Google comes in handy.

I was fascinated to find out that in Europe, Asia and Africa, chestnuts are used just like we use a starch. It is the only nut that is treated like a vegetable. December is the prime time for these little beauties. Also a little known fact is that chestnut trees are akin to oak trees living up to 500 years!

Think twice before picking up a chestnut and popping it in your mouth. Chestnuts need a little TLC before they become edible. They have a prickly husk outside, with two or three nuts per husk. Once mature the husk reveals a smooth compact nut. This little beauty needs to be boiled or roasted to extract a high level of tannic acid. And many times they are cured for a spell to promote sweetness.

Melissa’s Produce has done all the hard work for you. You can find a vacuum-packed peeled and cooked package of chestnuts in our Produce Department.  Now what, you might ask?

How about a soup to keep you warm? Enjoy!

Chestnut Soup with Prosciutto

Ingredients:
3 pkgs of Melissa’s Peeled and Cooked Chestnuts
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks (white and light-green parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed and thinly sliced crosswise
1 1/2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme, more for garnish
7 cups lower-salt chicken broth
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into thin strips

Directions:
Roughly chop the chestnuts and set aside in a medium bowl.

In a 6-quart pot, melt the butter with 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the chestnuts and 1 tablespoon of the thyme; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the chestnuts are extremely tender, about 10 to 15 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Let cool briefly. Working in batches, purée the soup, either in a regular blender or with a hand blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in an 8-inch nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon thyme and cook 30 seconds more. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.