I had a grainy mushroom soup revelation in the Marche years ago that I’ve never shaken, so this is a little praiseful bow to that moment. I’ve added chestnuts to the brew, which fell on our heads all throughout that late fall trip. I don’t know if we worship chestnuts as properly as the Italians - who finagle cakes, puddings, polenta, creams and pastes from the stuff - but I am completely besotted with their sweet addictive back notes.
I like my grain chewy, so add it at the very end of the cooking. I also crave brothy soups so serve this straight-up. Too, a splash of cream really gussies up the bowl... makes it festive enough for a holiday.
Porcini, Chestnut, Leek, Farro Soup
1-1/2 pounds chestnuts
1 cup of dried porcinis
1-1/2 cups hot water
3/4 cup farro
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium leeks, cleaned and cut in half moons, light green part too
1 red onion, sliced in half lengthwise, then in 1/4-inch slices lengthwise
2 ribs celery, sliced on the diagonal, 1/4-inch (save inner leaves for garnish)
1 medium waxy potato, like Yukon Golds, peeled and cut 1/2-inch dice
Freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 sprigs thyme, leaves plucked
5 to 6 cups stock or water
Small hunk of Parmesan
Virgin olive oil
Handful of celery leaves (optional)
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly score an x into chestnut shells on the flat side, trying not to cut into the nut meat too much. Spread them on a sheet pan and roast 20 to 30 minutes until the shells curl away from the nut. Cool, peel and roughly slice. Set aside.
Soak the porcinis in hot water until tender, at least 15 minutes. Squeeze the water out of the mushrooms over a bowl and save the liquid. Chop the mushrooms roughly. Set aside.
Place the farro in a small pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes until al dente. Strain and spread out on a plate to cool.
In a large, lined pot big enough to hold the soup heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add leek, onion, celery and a good pinch of salt and pepper and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chestnuts and potatoes, sauté 2 minutes. Pour over the porcini liquid being careful not to add any grit lingering at the bottom, and reduce until almost dry. Cover with stock or water by about 1-inch (add more liquid if necessary). Simmer about 20 minutes until the potato is tender and the flavors meld. Taste and season as necessary. Add a splash of cream if desired. Add the farro right before you serve the soup (otherwise it can suck up all the wonderful broth!) and finish with a shaving of parmesan, a drizzle of virgin oil and the celery leaves.
For a creamier soup: Before you’ve added the farro you may purée a cup or two of the soup - with a splash of cream if desired - and then pour it back into the pot. Add farro right before you serve.