Recipe: Chestnut Puree with Fennel Seed and Bay Leaf

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Although I adore this extraordinarily rich, fragrant puree, peeling fresh chestnuts is such a time consuming job, I probably wouldn't make it as often as I do unless I could use prepared chestnuts. I use bottled vacuum-packed chestnuts (available in gourmet shops and some supermarkets), or frozen peeled chestnuts, when they are available.

To use fresh chestnuts for this puree, follow this method for roasting and peeling chestnuts, then proceed as directed.

Makes 2 1/2 cups, 4 servings
    • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 large shallots, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
    • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
    • 1 pound peeled chestnuts, vacuum-packed, frozen or fresh
    • 1/2 ounce chunk dry cured ham or prosciutto (optional)
    • 1 small bay leaf
    • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon heavy cream or creme fraiche, or butter (optional)
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over low heat combine the olive oil and the shallots. Cover and cook until they have begun to sweat, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook slowly until the shallots are golden, 5 minutes longer. Stir in the fennel seed and cook 1 minute longer. Add the chestnuts, ham, bay leaf and chicken broth. Cover and simmer until the chestnuts are falling apart, 30 to 45 minutes. Discard the ham and bay leaf.

Process the mixture in a food processor until perfectly smooth, at least 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in heavy cream if desired. Season with salt and fresh pepper to taste.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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