My kitchen is small. After all, I live in a Greenwich Village apartment—but not very small, as I can comfortably fit in a table where I have breakfast and other meals and where I can do prep and roll out pastry dough. I always do these things standing up, for no other reason than I am used to doing so. My kitchen has a window, and I face it as I prepare food, usually listening to music or the news; and when I read, which I do at the kitchen table. What I like very much is to look out the window from time to time; watch the traffic, the people, the trees, the buildings; and muse.
What I shall be offering in this column is recipes, some advice—mostly culinary, and some thoughts, right out of the kitchen.
When preparing a recipe, especially from scratch, it’s useful to read it thoroughly the day before to make sure you have all the ingredients at hand. When you start cooking, keep the recipe handy and set all the ingredients on or near your work surface. As soon as you use an ingredient, either store it immediately or set it in a different place in your kitchen to keep track of what you’ve used and what you haven’t. Once you’ve used all the ingredients, it’s always a good idea to check the recipe again to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
That said, as everything, food is a matter of personal taste, and if you feel you would like to make changes to fit your palate, by all means do so, but note the changes so you can repeat them the next time you use the recipe or discard them as not a good idea.
For today I chose a very luxurious and rich soup. Serve it with some brioche toast slathered with a foie gras mousse, or duck rillettes. Add a delicate green salad seasoned with vinaigrette, using fruit-flavored vinegar, and a light dessert, and you have a great meal. I’m thinking of a dessert I had once in a French provincial home, consisting of shortbread cookies with strawberry jam and whipped cream. Delicious! And orange marmalade is a good alternative for the jam.
Cream of Chestnut Soup
(Velouté aux Châtaignes)
- 1 leek, trimmed of all dark green parts
- 1 medium carrot, scrubbed
- 2 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled, the green center removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
- 1 1/3 pounds chestnuts
- 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup Madeira wine
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or according to taste
- Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional)
- Toasted walnut meats
- Chop the leek, carrot, and garlic.
- In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat, add the chopped vegetables, and sauté until the leek has softened, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the chestnuts and the broth, bring the mixture to a simmer, and lower the heat to very low. Stir.
- Cover the saucepan and cook for about 40 minutes, or until the chestnuts are very soft. Stir a few times to prevent it from sticking to the saucepan.
- Stir in the heavy cream, the Madeira wine, and the brandy. Season with the nutmeg, cloves, salt, and cayenne. Simmer, covered, another 10 minutes. Add the chopped sage leaves.
- Transfer the soup to a food processor; or, for a smoother, velvety consistency, to a blender, in two parts if necessary, and purée.
- Return the soup to the saucepan and taste for seasoning. If it seems too sweet, add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice.
- Reheat, and serve in soup plates or bowls, topped with the toasted walnuts.
Yield: about 6 cups
Note: This soup tastes even better if served reheated the next day, which allows the flavors to develop.