I was walking up Spadina St, which is where much of Chinatown is in Toronto, looking for bits for a ‘thank you’ dinner party for my Canadian hosts.
Many of the grocers have baskets of produce out the front and one shop owner had to periodically wipe the snow off piles fruit and veg. It was all pleasingly charming and disorientating (no pun intended).
Anyway, one of these baskets was full of small, dried, white figs of the same type that I had discovered back home in Sydney earlier that year. They come from Iran and are often labelled as “Iranian figs”.
I bought a bag and popped one in my mouth for the walk home which, when I almost broke a tooth, was how I discovered I’d actually bought several handfuls of dried chestnut kernels.
Taking them back with me to Halifax I sought a recipe. And there in my sister-in-law’s collection was a doozy.
Chestnut and Mushroom, well, technically a soup
If using whole chestnuts: make a cut in each shell with a sharp knife sufficient to let water in. Soak the chestnuts overnight in water.
Find three or more albums you haven’t listened to in a while and shell the chestnuts. Picking all the bits of skin off is a bitch as chestnuts are convoluted like miniature brains and it takes hours. It helps if you treat this as an exercise in Zen. Do not use Aphex Twin as you might shudder awake at 4am, cold and alone and feeling slightly foolish.
Often I do the shelling/skinning the night before the dinner party simply because at the end I am a broken man only spurred on this ridiculous venture by the fluttering flag on a distant hilltop that is the knowledge that many forest-nymph babes are vegetarian and are impressed by men who cook. Mmmmm, Vegetarian forest-nymph babes.
Go to bed and sleep, as the French say, “on your crutch”.
Take one large onion. Chop it middling finely.
Treat one large potato for every two people the same.
Cook both with a nub of butter in a saucepan.
When the potato is soft throw in the chestnuts and cook them until they soften and deepen in colour. How many chestnuts? Enough chestnuts.
At the same time half-cook the bunch of wood mushrooms that you chopped up earlier. How many wood mushrooms? Enough wood mushrooms. I use Swiss browns because they seem more rustic and I am pretentious.
Chuck everything into a blender.
Everything is now (a) half cooked, and (b) blended.
Throw it all into the saucepan again and reduce it over low flame. This is when you add herbs and spices. I usually just add salt, pepper and one random Italian herb.
Reduce ’til it is thick and gluggy like porridge. Perhaps a half hour.
Receive accolades humbly.
It also works well as a sauce for meats such as pork. In which case serve dressed as a von Trapp, and with a good dark beer.
[Zoe says: yes, that's right, you don't put any liquid in. When I asked Harry if he was sure he said: "It is very thick. hence porridge. And hence "technically" a soup." See how I love you? I made a dill of myself so you don't have to.]
Harry’s series continues here.