I love Autumn for all the usual reasons; the crisp colourful leaves that crack under foot, the clear cold sunny days that invite the scarf out of the wardrobe and the instinctual desire for warm and comforting food. I also enjoy Autumn because of chestnuts. Yes, chestnuts. This fruit is for me the embodiment of this season because it reminds me of my first days in the school playground which was surrounded by the most ancient chestnut trees. I used to climb these trees and shake them till the fruit fell and rolled on the ground like scared hedgehogs. I also remember those which came in a red raffia bag from my grandparents farm in the North of Portugal together with the September wines, the first of that year’s harvest. These chestnuts were simply cooked by my grandmother, roasted with rock salt, cumin and fennel seeds. Sweet, nutty, delicious. Sometimes they were served as a topping to some of her hearty soups. One, which I most fondly remember, is her turnip-top soup served sprinkled with crumbled roasted chestnuts. I tend to believe that she used to mask this daily intake of vegetables on purpose so that we, as children, ate it without hesitation. This culinary trick created a great taste balance that now, as an adult, I thoroughly appreciate: the bitterness of the greens contrasted by the smoothness and sweetness of the chestnuts. Here is a variation of my grandmother’s soup.
Turnip-top soup with chestnuts
3 small potatoes
1 red onion
1 red pepper
3 turnips (with their green tops)
1 twig of rosemary chopped
500 ml of water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt & pepper for seasoning
250g of boiled chestnuts
Turn on the oven at 180 ºC. Peel all vegetables and remove the tops of the turnips. Finely chopped them and set aside.
Cut all vegetables in cubes and put them in the tray with the olive oil. Season well and sprinkle with the chopped rosemary. With your hands mix well and roast the vegetables for 45 minutes.
When ready, put the vegetables in the food processor and turn them into a purée. Transfer the purée into a pan, add the water and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the chopped turnip tops into the soup. Let them cook for another 10 minutes.
Serve the soup in a bowl, sprinkled with chestnuts (full or shredded).