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Chestnut Soup

Wherever there are mountains in Tuscany, there are usually large chestnut woods. Mount Amiata, southern Tuscany's highest mountain, is covered with chestnut trees, as are the mountains near Pistoia and Arezzo and in the Mugello. Historically, dried chestnuts, which have the virtue of an extraordinarily long shelf life, were an important winter staple.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz. pancetta, cubed
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 cup dried chestnuts, soaked overnight in
      lightly salted water and drained, or substitute
      steamed chestnuts
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seed, lightly crushed
  • Leaves from 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • 8 cups chicken stock or water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup short-grain white rice
  • 2 oz. aged pecorino cheese, grated

Directions:

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pancetta cubes and sauté until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the chestnuts, fennel seed and rosemary and stir well for about 2 minutes to combine.

Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the chestnuts almost begin to fall apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, seasoning with salt and pepper after 1 hour.

Stir in the rice and continue to simmer until the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ladle into warmed individual bowls and serve. Pass the pecorino cheese at the table.
Serves 6 to 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Tuscany, by Lori De Mori (Time-Life Books, 2001).