In much of rural France, you will find majestic avenues of edible-chestnut trees, often hundreds of years old. In the past, cooked chestnuts took the place of bread in years plagued by a bad harvest. For the evening meal, they were simply spooned into bowls and covered with boiling milk. This version from the Loire Valley, with a bit of onion and celery, is scarcely more complicated.
Peel the chestnuts. Melt the butter in a soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts and broth and season with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, shaking the pot occasionally, until the chestnuts are nearly tender, about 15 minutes.
In a small saucepan, bring the milk almost to a boil. (If it is added cold to the soup, it may curdle.) Add the milk to the soup pot and continue simmering gently, still covered, until the chestnuts are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes more.
Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. Spoon into warmed bowls and serve very hot.
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Chronicle Books.