When I started this blog, I decided to call it Chestnuts and Truffles because these are the two major local products here in this corner of Tuscany. In fact the name Marrone di Caprese Michelangelo, (marrone being a cultivated chestnut) is protected in Italy with a DOP status. I could easily have called it Chestnuts and Mushrooms, or Chestnuts and Wild Boar, because those things are in abundance here too: but I also had in mind a signature soup recipe that I developed a while back and which I am going to share with you today.
It’s taken this long to get this recipe up because I’ve been waiting for the ingredients to come into season, but they are finally here. And last weekend, and next weekend, Caprese Michelangelo celebrates with the Festa del Marrone, the famous Chestnut Festival. These food festivals happen all over central Italy at this time of year. Typically they consist of stalls selling whatever the festival is celebrating and other food and handicrafts from the area. Local restaurants prepare dishes featuring the honoured ingredient and everybody sits together on benches to eat them.
Most of the people attending these festivals are Italian, the majority of tourists being long gone by this time of year. It almost feels like people are taking the opportunity to do something for themselves after working hard throughout the summer. Of course everybody is very welcome, and if you are a foodie, this is a perfect time to visit Italy and to experience these festivals—a dose of real Italian life.
Compared to some of the other festivals in the area, the Caprese Festival is quite small, but it’s a village of only 1,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, people come from far and wide to buy the chestnuts, chestnut flour, honey, mushrooms, salami, and of course truffles which are on offer. And it was visiting the festival last Sunday that I bought the ingredients for my soup: half a kilo of mahogany marroni and a couple of pungent black truffles. Arriving home, I took the advice of the truffle seller and placed them, in a paper bag he’d provided, in an airtight glass jar. And when I opened the jar a couple of days later the unmistakable aroma of truffle hit me immediately.
To prepare the chestnuts for this soup, you have to cook and peel them. Here you have a few choices. Firstly, you can cut a slit in the skin and then roast them in a hot oven for 15 minutes. After this you should be able to remove the skin relatively easily. This has the disadvantage of tending to add a slightly charred, roast chestnut flavour to them which is gorgeous for eating, but too strong for this soup. The second method is to cut the slits in the same way, and then boil them for 15 minutes before removing the skin. You have to remove the skins while they are still hot and it’s quite hard on the fingers, but the flavour you get from them is much more delicate and suited to a soup.
I was shown a third method by an Italian friend whose mother always does it this way: don’t bother with the slit and just boil and simmer the chestnuts for a couple of hours. When they are cool, you cut them in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. You end up with chestnut mash, but for soups and other dishes that require a purée, it’s an excellent and easy method.
Fresh black truffle has an amazing flavour all of its own and you don’t really want to cook it. I therefore added a back flavour of truffle to this soup with the addition of truffle butter and oil, but the real flavour comes from just grating a fresh one over the soup at the moment of serving. In Italy, truffles are not so expensive as they can be elsewhere, however this dish is one for special occasions. Serve it with a chilled, medium to sweet white wine, such as a fruity chardonnay or even prosecco. Oh, and buon appetito!
Zuppa di marroni al tartufo
Serves 4 as a starter
1 1/2 tablespoons black truffle butter
2 teaspoons white truffle oil
1 onion, chopped
300g (10 ounces) peeled chestnuts
200ml (1 3/4 cups) vegetable stock
100ml (1/2 cup) milk
100ml (1/2 cup) cream
1/2 fresh black truffle
- Melt the truffle butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the white truffle oil.
- Fry the onion in the oil and butter until translucent, about two minutes.
- Add the chestnuts to the pan and fry until coated in the butter and oil, about two minutes. Add a dash more oil if necessary.
- Pour the stock and milk into the pan and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat right down, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Taste the liquid and add salt to taste. This will depend on the saltiness of your vegetable stock.
- Using a hand blender, liquidize the mixture. Then add the cream and blend again to whip the cream into the soup.
- Pour the soup into bowls and then grate the black truffle over the top. Add a slice of black truffle to decorate.
- Serve with crusty bread or slices of bread toasted with olive oil.