This is a great savoury-sweet soup that makes use of two seasonally available ingredients that are generally underused – or not used at all – in our kitchens.
Jerusalem artichokes are good for the liver and contain high amounts of inulin, a beneficial ‘prebiotic’ fibre that helps fed the good bacteria in the gut and also helps balance blood sugar levels.
Sweet chestnuts are widely available this time of year and have a similar nutritional composition to wheat, but are gluten free. They low in fat and are the only ‘nut’ that contains vitamin C. They are also a good source of carbohydrates, phosphorus, lecithin and contain useful amounts of other trace elements.
Chestnuts are easy to digest, have a soothing effect on the respiratory system and a tonic effect on muscles, nerves and blood vessels making them a good choice if you suffer from haemorrhoids and varicose veins.
If you are using fresh chestnuts prepare them first. To make peeling easy make a slit on the rounded side of the nut, bring to the boil in plenty of cold water and cook for 20 minutes. You should then be able to slip the hard outer skin and softer inner skin off easily. Remember to leave the nuts in the hot water so they stay soft and easy to peel. Then:
1 Melt oil and butter in a large pan. Add onions, garlic and about 2 tsps chopped thyme with a good pinch of salt and cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes.
2 Add the artichokes and cook for a further 4-5 minutes.
3 Add the peeled chestnuts and cook for a further 2 minutes.
4 Add the chicken stock and bay leaves and cook until artichokes and chestnuts are soft enough to blend.
5 In the mean time, take 12 slices of pancetta about 10 cm long and fry gently in a small frying pan until crisp. Remove and drain well on kitchen paper. In the fat that’s still in the pan, fry thin slices of the reserved chestnuts for a few minutes until they are crispy. Remove and drain. Keep these to the side
7 Remove bay leaves from the cooked artichokes and chestnuts. Add milk (if desired, for extra richness, substitute 50ml cream for the same quantity milk) and liquidise until smooth. If necessary, adjust thickness of the soup to suit your taste by adding a bit more stock. For extra smoothness, pass through a fine sieve before serving.
Garnish with the crispy pancetta and chestnuts and a sprig on thyme. For extra taste try drizzling the soup with a little truffle infused olive oil. Serve with crusty bread for a simple sustaining meal. Serves 6.
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