Jennifer Jasinski is a James Beard Award-winning chef with four acclaimed Denver restaurants, a cookbook and an impressive stint on “Top Chef Masters” to her name. Now she’s about to tackle a whole new challenge: cooking Thanksgiving dinner for American expats in Paris.
Jasinski knows a thing or two about the cravings that come with homesickness. The Santa Barbara, Calif., native admits to missing Mexican food mightily while training in France as a young Wolfgang Puck protégée. So the opportunity to treat the guests at Auberge Flora to a good, old-fashioned turkey feast isn’t one she’s taking lightly.
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Granted, “old-fashioned” doesn’t, in this case, mean the same thing as “down home.” Take this wonderfully rich and elegant chestnut soup, which I first sampled a few years ago at one of Jasinski’s Denver restaurants, Rioja, where it came in a tiny pumpkin “lidded” with a foie gras-topped slice of brioche. Though you can serve it in plain old bowls, squash vessels do make for an impressive flourish. In fact, having just reprised the appetizer at a charity event in New York City, Jasinski acknowledges, “I’d forgotten what a really cool dish it is, but people were freaking out about it!”
Though you’ll find the recipe in her cookbook, “The Perfect Bite,” she graciously allowed us to reprint it here as well. And she adds that gourds serve as equally lovely containers for soufflés, wild-rice salads and the like.
Savory Chestnut Soup
Prep Time: 10 to 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Total Time: 1 3/4 to 2 1/2 hours, including time for the optional step of making the bowls.
Yield: 8 servings
For the soup:
1/4 cup duck fat (preferred) or pure olive oil
1 1/4 cups sliced onion
1/4 cup garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 cups domestic mushrooms, sliced
10 sage leaves, destemmed
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
12 to 14 ounces whole, fresh, peeled chestnuts
1 1/4 cups white wine
6 cups chicken stock
1-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon finely ground cardamom
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
For the assembly (optional):
8 mini pumpkins, 8 small butternut squash or 1 large pumpkin
Duck fat (preferred) or extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
For the soup:
1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the duck fat, then add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent — do not let them color. Add the mushrooms, sage, peppercorns and bay leaf. Sauté a few minutes, until the mushrooms have softened.
2. Add the chestnuts to the pot and deglaze with the wine. Let cook until the wine has reduced completely, then add the chicken stock. Raising the heat as needed, bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer on very low for about 45 minutes.
3. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom and cream and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. The chestnuts should be very soft by now. Removing the cinnamon stick, take the soup off of the heat, transfer it to a blender and blend until smooth. Season with the salt, pepper and sugar, then strain the soup through a china cap. If you will not be serving it immediately, store it in the refrigerator.
For the assembly:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. If you are using mini pumpkins as serving bowls, cut off the tops, clean out the insides and then brush the hollows with the duck fat and season them with salt and pepper. Place the pumpkins on a sheet pan and roast in the oven about 20 minutes — until the flesh can be removed easily with a fork or spoon, but not so long that the skin becomes weak and fragile, as this will make it difficult to use as a serving bowl.
If you are using butternut squash as serving bowls, remove the tops so you are left only with the bulbous bases, then follow the instructions for the mini pumpkins.
If you are using a large pumpkin as a soup terrine, cut the top off and clean out the insides. Boil some water and ladle it into the pumpkin to warm the flesh, then pour it out.
3. Ladle the soup into the squash(es), or regular bowls if you prefer, and serve.
Main photo: Chestnut soup. Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Jasinski