Chickpea and chestnut soup

Chickpea and chestnut soup

Zuppa di ceci e castagne

By
From
Acquacotta
Serves
4 as a first course or light meal
Photographer
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

Foraged chestnuts traditionally were a delicious, free and readily available ingredient that kept well for months over long winters and filled up hungry bellies. During times of great poverty in Italy, they say that polenta saved the north and fish saved the south, while chestnuts saved central Italy. This particular dish was a frugal way to stretch the chickpeas in a meal, a very literal illustration of the saying that a poor person deve contare anche i ceci (must count even his chickpeas).

Traditionally, dried chickpeas are used in this soup. If you have these, soak them in cool water for 12 hours before boiling them until soft with a rosemary sprig and a clove of garlic. Dried or freshly collected chestnuts can also be used; both need to be boiled until tender, the latter scored with a deep cross before heading for the pot and peeled after boiling. Don’t throw away the liquid used to cook any of these ingredients; it can become the broth for the soup.

For convenience sake, this version uses pre-cooked chickpeas and chestnuts, which means this soup can be made in less than 15 minutes. It will feed four as part of a multiple-course meal, or two very hungry people if it’s the only dish served. It’s a humble, comforting soup, just the thing for a cosy night in with a glass of robust red wine.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
2 garlic cloves, squashed with the flat edge of a kitchen knife
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 rosemary sprig, leaves picked
4 sage leaves
90ml dry white wine
400g pre-cooked chickpeas, drained
200g cooked and peeled chestnuts

Method

  1. Put the garlic in a large stockpot with the olive oil, rosemary and sage. Cook gently over low heat to infuse the oil, about 3–5 minutes. When the garlic is soft, add the white wine to the pot, turn the heat up to medium and cook for 30 seconds, then add the cooked chickpeas, season with salt and cover with water (if you have cooked the chickpeas yourself, you can use the cooking water here).
  2. Bring to a simmer, then blend about half of the chickpeas until smooth. A stick blender is handy for this, but otherwise, transfer the chickpeas and some of the water to a blender and blend, then return the mixture to the pan. Add the chestnuts, which you can keep whole, roughly halve or crumble in your hands as you put them in (I prefer the latter). Continue simmering, uncovered, for approximately 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced slightly and is creamy. Taste for seasoning.
  3. Serve the soup in bowls with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper. Some warm, crunchy, just-grilled bread rubbed with a garlic clove and drowned in some good extra-virgin olive oil goes well with this soup, too.

Variations

  • For a richer flavour, you can use unsalted chicken stock instead of water. If you prefer a brothy soup, leave the chickpeas whole rather than partially blended – this is especially nice if you have cooked dried chickpeas and you have the cooking water as the base of the soup. The chestnuts are usually kept whole or crumbled into pieces, as puréed chestnuts become extremely thick. You can also use other legumes in place of the chickpeas, such as borlotti or cannellini beans. Some recipes also add some tomato passata (puréed tomatoes) to the soup as well. Although I like this mellow, sweet and creamy soup as is, you could add a hint of warmth with some chilli added to the garlic at the beginning.
Tags:
Italian
Tuscany
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