This Mushroom and Chestnut Soup is just the ticket on those cold, grey January days when you need a bowl of warming comfort food. It uses a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms which gives it an added depth of flavour. These are combined with sweet chestnuts which are a great flavour partner for mushrooms and also thicken the soup and give it a creamy texture – with no added cream!
You can use any kind of fresh mushrooms for this soup. I generally use a combination of the big, flat capped-mushrooms which have a strong flavour and smaller button mushrooms. The addition of the dried mushrooms, which are one of my favourite ingredients, is what really makes this soup special. They add a deep, savoury umami flavour which underpins that of the fresh mushrooms. Dried mushrooms are available in lots of supermarkets. I get mine from Tesco, which does great own-brand dried Porcini mushrooms but all major supermarkets have equivalent products and Merchant Gourmet also produces dried mixed mushrooms. You don’t need to add very many dried mushrooms to a dish – think of them as a condiment or flavouring – but they will have a major impact on the taste.
Ready-prepared sweet chestnuts can be found in most supermarkets. Merchant Gourmet produces a range of chestnut-products, including chestnut puree and whole chestnuts. There is no need to roast your own! Although traditionally associated with Christmas, I use sweet chestnuts throughout the autumn and winter, often combined with mushrooms, in soups, pies and sauces.
This soup resulted from me trying to find ways to use the flavour combination in my Mushroom and Chestnut Pies. I also developed a Creamy Mushroom Pasta sauce using the same ingredients which I use all the time, and is very popular with my children.
25 g butter (or vegan alternative) and 1 tablespoon of plain flour (optional)
Heat the oil in a large heavy-based pan
Peel and chop the onion and slice the celery sticks finely. Add to the pan together with the dried mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. If you are using dried thyme, add it at this stage.
Cook very gently for around 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft and sweet. Slow cooking caramelises the natural sugars in the vegetables and greatly improves the flavour of the soup.
Chop the fresh mushrooms and add to the pan together with the crushed garlic cloves. Cook for a further ten minutes.
Add the vegetable stock to the pan and bring to the boil.
As soon as the soup has boiled, take the pan off the heat and add the chestnuts.
Allow the soup to cool slightly and then blend until smooth using a food processor or hand-held blender.
Add the milk (or nut milk) to thin the soup to your desired consistency. If using fresh thyme, add it at this stage. Gently re-heat the soup.
If you wish, you can make a beurre manie which will thicken the soup and give it a creamier, silkier texture. To do this, you should mix a little plain flour with some softened butter to make a paste and add it to the soup and heat gently until it thickens.
Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Chestnuts – the perfect week-night supper
This Creamy Mushroom Pasta, with sweet chestnuts and caramelised onions, is just what I want at the end of a busy working day. It is savoury, full of flavour and, even better, is quick and easy to make and the sauce can also be made in advance.
Mushrooms and sweet chestnuts are great flavour partners and are two of my favourite ingredients. The savouriness of this dish is enhanced by using both fresh and dried mushrooms. You can use any type of dried mushroom in this recipe – most of the supermarkets sell a range including porcini, shitake and mixed. They add a real depth of almost meaty flavour to recipes that do not contain any meat! Ready-to-eat sweet chestnuts are also available widely in supermarkets. They are inevitably associated with Christmas but I use them all the year round. They have a sweetness and also a soft but firm texture that is fantastic in all kinds of savoury dishes.
Due to its deep savouriness, this dish is a great one to serve to meat-eaters. In addition to its flavour, it also has a good range of textures and a good “mouth feel” which means the lack of meat is not likely to be noticed! There are several variations that you can make to this recipe depending on your dietary preferences.
Vegetarian – I include anchovies in my recipe but, if you are vegetarian, you can leave them out. You may just need to add a little additional salt to the sauce.
Vegan – You can replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil, omit the anchovies and the cream. In order to make the sauce creamy, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
Healthier – Replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil and omit the cream. As above, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
You can use any kind of pasta to make Creamy Mushroom Pasta. I generally use a shorter pasta such as gigli (I love gigli!) or penne but I’ve made it with pretty much every type of pasta depending on what I have in my cupboard at the time.
This Creamy Mushroom Pasta with Chestnuts is the perfect week-night supper.
25 g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
a handful of dried mushrooms (any kind)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tin of anchovies (optional)
485 g fresh mushrooms
180 g pack of peeled chestnuts
2 tablespoons of double cream
Salt and pepper
350 g pasta
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan.
Peel and finely chop the onions and add them to the pan. Crumble the dried mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook over a low heat for around 15 minutes until the onions are sweet and caramelised and the dried mushrooms have softened.
Peel and crush the cloves of garlic and roughly chop the anchovies. Add to the pan.
Finely chop half of the fresh mushrooms and slice the other half. This gives some variety in texture to the pasta sauce. Add the fresh mushrooms to the pan.
Cook for ten minutes until the fresh mushrooms are cooked through.
Roughly chop the peeled chestnuts into large chunks and add them to the pan.
Stir in the double cream and heat for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Chop the parsley and stir into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as required. You may not need to add salt as the anchovies will add saltiness to the mixture.
In a separate pan, heat water to boiling point, add the pasta and cook according to instructions on the packet. When done, drain and stir in the mushroom and chestnut sauce.
If you want to make this a vegetarian recipe, you can omit the anchovies. Just make sure that you add a little salt to the sauce to compensate for the loss of their saltiness.
If you want to make this a vegan recipe, you can replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil, omit the anchovies and the cream. In order to make the sauce creamy, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
If you want to make this a healthier recipe, replace the butter with an additional tablespoon of oil and omit the cream. As above, crush one third of the chestnuts into a paste and stir this into the sauce.
These Mushroom and Chestnut Pies make a fantastic vegetarian main course at an autumn or winter dinner. I often make them for Sunday lunch when I usually serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian guests. The non-vegetarians get a roast and the vegetarians get the Mushroom and Chestnut Pies. They both go well with the same accompaniments – roast potatoes, cauliflower in white sauce, buttered carrots, parsnips – which makes things easy!
What makes these pies particularly good is the combination of the mushrooms and the chestnuts. The chestnuts add a sweetness which goes very well with the bosky savouriness of the mushrooms. Also, I think there is something special and celebratory about dishes that include crisp flaky pastry. These pies are part of my traditional Christmas Day dinner when I serve both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
These Mushroom and Chestnut pies are the perfect autumn main course combining savoury mushrooms and sweet chestnuts wrapped in crisp buttery pastry.
25 g butter and 1 teaspoon oil (or 2 tsp if vegan)
1 bulb of fennel
2 sticks of celery
Salt and pepper
250 g mushrooms
1 garlic clove
Several sprigs of fresh thyme (or one teaspoon of dried thyme)
180 g of peeled, whole chestnuts
500 g packet of puff pastry
Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy-based pan
Peel and chop the onion, fennel and celery. Add the vegetables to the pan and season with salt and pepper.
Cook very gently for around 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft and sweet. Slow cooking caramelises the natural sugars in the vegetables and greatly improves the flavour of the dish.
Slice the mushrooms and add them to the pan together with the peeled and crushed garlic clove. Cook for a further five minutes.
If using fresh thyme, remove the leaves from the woody stems. Add the thyme to the vegetable mixture.
Roughly chop the chestnuts and add them to the vegetable mixture. Cook for a further five minutes.
Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of approximately half a centimetre. Cut circles from the pastry. Either use a pastry cutter or cut around a small saucer or plate.
Break and lightly whisk the egg. Use a pastry brush to paint egg around the circumference of one of the pastry circles. Place a spoonful of the mushroom and chestnut mixture in the centre of the circle and then fold the pastry circle in half to form a semi-circular pie. Paint some more of the egg over the top of the pie. Repeat for the rest of the pastry circles.
Place the pies on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.