Don’t you just love thinking back to meals you’ve had while travelling? Those special times when the atmosphere was just right; the weather, just right. You may have wandered in to the restaurant by chance and, sitting down with a glass of wine, you feel that lovely unfolding sense of holiday contentment. It may not have been at a five-star restaurant with complicated offerings. It may have been simple fare, but there was something about the way it was prepared or the combination of ingredients that made it special. I have many happy memories of meals like that, which is why long after the tan has faded and the suitcase has been unpacked, I keep attempting to try to recreate the dishes I’ve experienced. The tastes and smells can be transportative.
There is one dish I’ve been trying to recreate since eating it in a little town called Soriano nel Cimino, an Italian village near the borders of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, in autumn 2001. Soriano’s streets were adorned in traditional decorations as it celebrated the annual Sagra delle Castagne festival, giving this pretty little village on a hill a 15th-century feel. The festival pays homage to the chestnut and events in history over ten days every autumn. The dish I experienced was a rich soup of chestnuts and chickpeas, which I’ve scoured cookbooks, online sources and my own memory to bring back to life. This is the tried and tested version I’ve arrived at. It takes me back to that beautiful medieval festival, roasting chestnuts over an outdoor fire …
Soriano nel Cimino, Italy
CHESTNUT, PUMPKIN AND CHICKPEA SOUP
The beautiful thing about this recipe is that the quantities of ingredients are not too important. Mix and match ingredients depending on what you have, and just go with the flow to create it to your liking.
1 x small pumpkin (I used butternut squash)
1-2 cups chestnuts (score and roast your own like I did or buy pre-cooked and shelled)
250g tinned chickpeas
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for roasting and serving
2 stalks of celery
1/3 bulb of fennel (optional)
2 cloves of garlic
200 grams passata or canned tomatoes or a couple of tbspns tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup of fresh herbs (I used rosemary, sage and parsley)
1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock (approx.)
1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. If roasting your own chestnuts, score and roast them for 20 – 25 minutes. Once cooled, peel and set aside. (This process takes longer than you might think. It is much easier to buy prepared chestnuts but the experience and the results are quite different.)
2. Peel and chop pumpkin into 2 inch pieces, mix with a little olive oil and roast for 20-30 minutes until cooked but still firm.
3. Meanwhile dice onions, fennel and celery and finely chop the garlic and herbs. In a large saucepan heat oil, then add onion, garlic and celery and sauté for about 3 minutes. Then add chicken stock, chickpeas, passata or tomatoes and the bay leaf. Bring to boil. Once boiled, add fresh herbs, pumpkin and chestnuts and cook for anywhere from 10 minutes up to a few hours. It will be edible in 10 minutes but this soup – like many Italian things – improves over time.
4. There are a number of ways to finish this soup. I like to purée about a third of it and mix that back in with the chunky stuff. It also thickens up as the pumpkin breaks down so you may not want to purée any. It scan also be completely puréed if you prefer that texture. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. To serve, it can be topped with parmesan cheese, olive oil, parsley or other herbs. And some crusty bread is a perfect companion.
Want to act on this inspiration?
Read: “My Umbrian Kitchen” – Umbrian-Australian chef and advocate of eating and living by the seasons, Patrizia Simone shares the traditions, rituals and family recipes from her childhood in rural Umbria.
Learn: Hire an Italian chef to teach you and some friends their own family recipes or something of your choice.
Host: Celebrate the best of seasonal produce and the joys of cooking for friends by having your friends or family over for a dinner party or long lunch.
Tell us: About a memorable meal you had in a different place. What made it special? And do you have the recipe? Do share!
(Written by Sarah)
* Image courtesy of Trip Advisor
SHAMELESS PLUG: THE BULB SURVEY
We know we keep banging on about the plans we’re making for The Bulb, but really, nothing we do means anything unless we know we’re giving our readers what they – you – want.
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Go on! Three measly little minutes!
Thanking you and lots of love,
Julia, Laura and Sarah