One of the few things on which Mr A&N and I disagree is the notion of long walks. I can only presume his parents subjected him to some torturously long walks in horrible weather, over rugged terrain, and with no shoes to protect his delicate, child-sized feet, because the way he reacts to the question "Would you like to go for a walk?" tells me that there are some deep scars that are nowhere near healed. We've recently come to the agreement that if I'm to be successful in getting him to join me for a walk, there needs to be a reward involved in it: a pint of beer at the end, a slice of cake, a bacon sandwich thrust into his hand.
I'm willing to make the compromise because I love going for walks, and using it as time to enjoy the seasons. In autumn, I love finding piles of leaves and kicking and crunching my way through them, or finding shocks of color thrown against the normal landscape, nature's last dramatic gesture before the bareness of winter. Autumnal walks also provide the chance of gathering pocketfuls of edible goodies, which only adds to my joy in being out during this season.
It turns out, rather happily, that Mr A&N will accept as his walking-reward time spent hunting for food. I know, reader, I know - I'm as shocked by this turn of events as you are, but I'll confess that I couldn't be more pleased. So during our recent walk around Hampstead Heath, with our pockets full of chestnuts (and our hands cut and scratched from handling their casings), we both returned home content and thinking of how we could put our bounty to good use.
White Bean and Chestnut Soup (an approximate recipe)
Serves 2 for a main course, 4-6 for a starter
- 300 g white beans
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
- 250 g (approx) of unsmoked bacon
- 200 g / 20 chestnuts, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 litres stock
- 1 bay leaf
- (optional: milk or cream)
- (optional: truffle oil)
- First, soak the beans over night to soften them. After soaking, drain and rinse the beans.
- Heat some olive oil in a stock pot, and add the onions, garlic, and half of the bacon (roughly chopped). Stir occasionally and allow the onions to soften and the bacon to mostly cook.
- Add the chestnuts and beans, and stir.
- Add in the stock and the bay leaf, and bring to a gentle boil.
- Allow to simmer away gently until the beans are well softened, about 45 - 1 hour.
- When the beans are near to finished, grill the remaining strips of bacon until crispy and chop up - these will go on top of the soup.
- Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf from the soup, and blend about 3/4 of it.
- Return the blended soup to the pot with the rest of the soup, and stir together.
- Turn the heat back on to low, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- At this point, you may want to add a touch of milk or cream to the mixture if you want to making the consistency creamier; I prefer to leave it as it is since it is naturally quite creamy.
- Spoon into bowls and garnish with a handful of the grilled bacon.
- If you have truffle oil, you might want to drizzle a bit in each bowl in order to deepen the autumnal flavor of it.