Friday, January 21, 2011

Castles, France and Chestnut Lentil Soup

It’s cold and damp.  The snow has been around since Christmas and I am ensconced on my sofa, still chilled through and through but with a head full of warm daydreams --  escaping the drear in spirit if not body. 

 Joseph Canteloube 1879 -1957
It happens every time I listen to Joseph Cantaloube’s Chants d’Auvergne (my favorites are Brezairola and Pastorelle -- you can listen here: Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne). It is truly transporting music from a composer who reverenced the songs of his homeland at France’s wild center, the Auvergne (which takes its name from the ancient Gallic tribe, Arverni, defeated by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago).  He collected the songs in the last 30 years of his life and the result is pure enchantment and so evocative of the place and Cantaloube’s love for it… you can feel his heart’s pulse in every note. It sets me to dream of France.

The Auvergne lies on the eastern side of an area known for incredible beauty and spectacular food going to the Dordogne and the Southwest -- places that rival Paris for sheer numbers of historical sites (including one of my favorites -- the 17,300 year-old cave paintings at Lascaux near Montignac).

Thanks to Anita for telling me about the underground majesty of Gouffre de Padirac... surely there must be a fairy kingdom somewhere in it's dark miles of streams and caverns.  For purposes of my daydream… I know you will forgive my vague, inclusive geography, won’t you??

Chateau de Montbrun, Limousin (Brangelina looked at it, since it’s for sale for 24 million)   

 Its castles (from the Latin castellum) are right out of dreams as well… they are the kind of turreted beauties with crenellations and pointed roofs that all fairy princesses call home.

The land around these castles is wild and fiercely beautiful --with the Auvergne mountains -- the Central and Eastern Massif Central and


the Western Massif Central--the source of the Dordogne river.  There is the vast, game-filled forest of Tronçais (home of the oak that makes limousin wine barrels for the finest vintages in the world),

Sioule River

and the river Sioule and the river Cher winding their way through the unspoiled forest.

Guery Lake

The Guéry, Servières and Pavin Lakes surround Le Sancy and the 80 dormant volcanos of the 25 mile long Chaîne des Puys (the highest being the Puy de Dôme provide drama and striking vistas for the region (Puy is the French word for volcanic summit from which the famous lentils take their name and get their fine taste from the volcanic soil).


Puy de Dôme    

But it is those magical castles

and  medieval villages

that keep my mind wandering there… wishing to be whisked from my snowbound doldrums into the never-never land of magical places where (in my imagination) it is forever temperate with sweet scented air… in a proper fairytale sort of way (guess you know where I want to take my vacation!).

Ah well, I can’t snap my fingers and materialize one of these castles like a sorceress, but I can conjure some magic for your kitchen. 

I had the recipe equivalent of a pleasant earworm thanks to a description of a soup that Diane at 2 Stews  had at La Régalade in Paris a few months ago.  She said it was a chestnut soup poured over a symphony of favorite flavors –– foie gras, cheese and chives (and I thought I saw croutons?). I set about to recreate it. Chestnut soup is a renowned specialty of the Auvergne region lush with famous forests full of chestnuts and game and nearby the epicenter of foie gras in Périgord (although Périgord now processes  IMPORTED raw materials from Eastern Europe and Israel as the properly raised local product cannot keep up with demand!)  I decided to use a version with a bit of game to it as they often do in the region and chose a cheese like an Auvergne product, Saint Nectaire --  a semi-soft, nutty-tasting, washed-rind cheese.

The recipe from La Régalade (via Gourmet Magazine) served as the basis for the “velvety emulsion” (the voluptuous Nigella Lawson makes a similar soup  you can watch HERE from The Caprice in London as well—sans foie gras), but I also took inspiration from some traditional Auvergne recipes.
The duck fat, smoked duck breast, chestnuts and foie gras come from D’Artagnan and there are links to order them.

Chestnut & Lentil Soup, inspired by foods of the Auvergne and La Régalade, serves 6

½ cup duck fat  
2 T butter
4 slices bread, cut into croutons (around 3 cups)
½ pound vacuum-packed chestnuts (or 1 ½ c cooked peeled chestnuts) 
3 T armagnac
1 smoked duck breast, skin removed, sliced thinly (around 7 oz) 
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
¼ c chopped onion
1 small celery root (7 oz), peeled and cubed
1 carrot (7 oz), peeled and cubed
4 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
1 c lentilles de Puy or French green lentils
8 c cold water
1 t salt
1/3  c heavy cream
3 ½ oz foie gras, cubed (if you can’t spring for the foie gras… try a  good creamy foie gras mousse) 
2 oz soft cheese, cubed (like a St. Nectaire from the Auvergne—I used Morbier but a brie type cheese would work too… sliced thinly to melt)
chopped herbs for garnish (few sprigs parsley and thyme & chives)

Slice and soak the chestnuts in the Armagnac for a few hours.

Heat 4 T duck fat and 2 T butter and sauté the croutons till crisp and golden and reserve.

Sauté the thinly sliced duck skin in the 2 T duck fat till crisp and reserve.  Sauté the shallot, onion, celery root and carrot in the same duck fat.

Make a bundle of the herbs and toss into the pot.  Add the lentils, 1/3 of the smoked duck in 3 big chunks and chestnuts, reserving the Armagnac.  Add the water and salt and cook 20-25 minutes until the lentils are soft.  Strain the soup, reserving most of the cooking liquid, and remove the herbs and the duck.  Puree the soup using the reserved cooking liquid as necessary and the heavy cream.   It will be creamier if you start with a small amount of liquid so that it can really be pureed. Add the reserved armagnac to taste.  The soup will thicken as it stands so keep the cooking liquid to add as needed.

Sauté the  reserved smoked duck in remaining 2 T duck fat, remove and keep warm.  Saute the foie gras gently to warm.

Put croutons, sliced duck, cheese and foie gras and herbs in bottom of soup bowl.  Pour hot soup over all and serve immediately

* I can imagine doing this vegetarian would be great. substitute a nut oil like hazelnut for the duck fat and skip the meat component.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!


Diane said...

Phew €24 million, I would have to win more than one lottery to buy that!! Can you just imagine the house work :( You would need a few more million to pay the staff.

Great post and of course as it is near to home I appreciate it further.

That soup looks interesting, must make a note of it. Thanks for this one. Diane

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I always feel I'm transported to another place and time when I come here, Deana! Gosh, that castle must be hard to heat in the winter but then, Brangelina would only stay there for a few months in the summer, right?

This soup sounds like something you'd find on the menu of a 5-star restaurant! The flavors sound amazing. I can't believe I have yet to try de Puy lentils!

Emily said...

I really want to listen to those Chants d'Auvergne myself. I once visited the Dordogne when I was 10 and also the caves at Lascaux which were incredible. Those castles make me dream and the delicious soup would be a perfect accompaniment.

La Table De Nana said...

I am like Susan and cannot believe I have not tried the De Puy lentils..i remember Diane's post too..Josephine baker..hmm wonder if she sold or willed it?The last photo of the soup looks like a mosaic..a work of art..
You chose the perfect dishware to showcase.
Loved the movie Chocolat..

La Table De Nana said...

PS we have been watching wonderful shows you would love on a channel from FRance.. last week Paris from rooftops.. oh my gosh the history..the arrondissements.the museums.. the rooftop gardens.. the tiny places ..a home in a clocher! So well done..History at it's best.

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

That looks wonderful! And perfect for the coooooold days NYC is having right now. Brrr!

tasteofbeirut said...

All I know from the Dordogne are the tales (food-related) of our family friend Jacques who would spend his summers there. I still remember the expression on his face.
Well, I can daydream too, but even the castles of France in the winter are cold and damp; I much prefer escaping to the Seychelles islands if I can help it.
This dish is superb, but then everything you make is worthy of being eaten by François 1er or Louis VI !

Kathy Walker said...

Creamy soup! I actually have a package of chestnuts...thank you. I totally love the rivers and castles you have shared.

Linda said...

Oh how I loved this post...well all of your posts Deana!
The soup looks amazing...I am buying a lottery ticket, so maybe I can run away to France
But most of all those dishes are simply magnificent...just gorgeous!

Becky said...

That looks wonderful -- and so perfect for the weather we've been having. Duck soup!

Ana Powell said...

Your work is absolutely divine.
Wishing you a lovely weekend ♥

Sarah said...

I have the duck fat in my freezer and lentils in my cold room. I must try this. Loved the story, history and pictures.

Julian said...

I just posted my recipes for hot toddies and I'm sitting here reading your post and enjoying the warmth it brings. You are such a wonderful writer, in addition to being a consumate foodie. I love the way you describe the locations in France. I'm going to try the recipe, as it was -7F in Chicago this morning. Warming from the inside is important here. But I will use the duck fat. While I imagine you can substitute for a pure vegetarian option, I don't think you can find a better fat for making anything crisp than duck fat. And around here in the winter, we need some fat to help keep us warm! Great work!

Chef Dennis Littley said...

oh Deana
first of all your images are just incredible, what a beautiful country! Now that soup, I don't know where to begin, the duck breast and fois gras..chestnuts and lentils...what an incredible combination of flavors and textures.....this must have been one heavenly soup!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Dearest Deana, you have fed my soul. Not only were your comments on my post so RIGHT ON, your choice of music and REGION JUST SPEAK TO ME. I was in the Dordogne about 8 years ago and it was my husband's first time there. Not only did we have THE BEST STRAWBERRIES, PEACHES AND PEACE WINE there, but the landscape, LE GOUFFRE DE PADIRAC and SARLAT's market fed us with the magic that we seek as little children disguised as adults. Les jardins de Marqueyssac and DÔMME enchanted to no end. O.K., then there is the music. My favorite French composer is Debussey. My father played his music on the piano and every time I hear Clair de Lune, I weep. I just think, "What inspired this man to write this INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL SONG?" Therefore, the white canvas that is empty is a good thing; we need to fill it, wait and be faithful to its call. Thank you for this recipe with another favorite of mine: CHESTNUTS!!!! Oh I could eat pounds of them!!!

Have a splendid Sunday, Anita

Medifast Coupons said...

Beautiful photo's, simply spectacular. This soup looks savoury and delicious. Lovely post!

Fresh Local and Best said...

This looks like an amazingly luxurious soup! Who needs to travel when you can whip up inspiration in the form of such goodies as chestnuts, duck, foie gras and cream - oh la la!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Beautiful! I swear you were a queen in a last life. Seriously!


2 Stews said...

Just returned from London to find your lovely post. You have taken the inspiration to the next level. I think your soup looks even better than the one I had at Le Regalade! I will certainly try your versiion, and as my sister sits beside me she is emailing her husband to take a look at this.

Your virtual trip to the South of France was a treat! Thanks all the way around Deana.


Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh Deana, YOU WILL LOVE LE GOUFFRE DE PADIRAC!!! If you go , you must get on the boat ride on the subterranean river. It is pure magic. Email me if you wish:

and I will give you some details!!!!

PEACE! Anita

Tasty Trix said...

I love that you use words like "drear." I am convinced that you are the reincarnation of Charlotte Bronte ... And that soup looks amazing, so thick and rich.

pierre said...

Isn't France Beautiful?
this is the part from where my family is !!
Pierre de Paris

Faith said...

Your lovely post helped me escape the drear of winter...for which I am truly grateful! :) Lovely photos, and delicious soup...I love the soft silkiness of the chesnuts!

pam said...

What I wouldn't give to have some duck fat right now. Gorgeous pictures!

Unknown said...

Daaaaaaaahling, I am so ready to escape this winter drear with you... and share some soup.
*kisses* HH

Marjie said...

I'm staying inside, safe from the cold, too. Your soup looks like a great escape; let's all dream of those lovely castles!

sara @ CaffeIna said...

As always, you have some beautiful pictures here. You always make me dream! I also dream of this soup. I never had chestnuts in a soup but together with duck...oh boy, I so want to try this!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a heavenly combination of chestnuts and foie gras! Two of my favourite ingredients :) And castles always fascinate me, I guess because I come from a country that doesn't have any!

Ken Albala said...

I want to live in a castle. With Josephine Baker. And that soup!

Anonymous said...

Such gorgeous sights and castles! I've been to some in France and want to see so many more, and of course take my little one to see too :) The soup sounds amazing, I love the shot of pouring the hot soup over the delicious croutons, sliced duck, cheese and foie gras!

Karen from Globetrotter Diaries said...

I am transported... you've got me in daydreaming now with your great photos and writing :) I've never seen anything like that before but it looks incredible and decadent!

Lucy said...

Thank you for sharing the beauty you know -- reading this has been like tapping back into childhood legends and fairy stories with all these rich and strange details, only about the real world, accompanied by music and taste and history. Simplicity and luxury, in a gorgeously presented combination.

Jonny said...

Could it be that puy lentils also achieve their particular dark color by virtue of the volcanic soils...? (Incidentally, Volvic mineral water also comes from this same region.) Am wildly impressed by the soup. Any inclusion of foie gras (whether from D'Artagnan, Israel or Romania!) deserves a hurrah but making it work in a soup is spectacular indeed! I loved the inclusion of Lascaux - one of my all-time favourite "attractions".

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Thanks for the magical journey through such gorgeous photos - we sure could use a break right now from the snow! And, the chestnut lentil soup, with foie gras?!! Fit for royalty.

Barbara said...

Are you certain there wasn't a fairy in that photo of Gouffre de Padirac? Sure looked like it.

Can anything be better than chestnut soup? Yes...if you add lentils! Wow, Deana. This is some recipe. I love the chunks of croutons, duck and fois gras in the bottom, as though they are the main event, while I think it's the soup that would do me in. But served together, I am drooling. I always use the French green lentils and have some in my pantry right now.

I've made a chestnut ice cream served with bittersweet chocolate...divine.

One of my favorite French blogs recently had a recipe using chestnut creme. That was new to me (it was a dessert) and I looked it up to see where I could get some. Was surprised to find Amazon had some sources. I really would like to try it in something. You can probably find it in NYC easily.

Lovely post!

blackbookkitchendiaries said...

this sounds simple elegant... your post is always interesting. thanks for sharing this.

hannah, heart city said...

yum! i want to try this soup out :-)

Mary Bergfeld said...

Now that's a dish that will keep away the cold. It looks wonderful and sounds delicious.Your photos today are spectacular. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Megan @ FeastingonArt said...

I always love visiting your site, the soup looks utterly delicious

Magic of Spice said...

What wonderful places, the Gouffre de Padirac must be so magical in person...gorgeous!
Speaking of gorgeous this soup is just heavenly. Such rich and beautiful flavors :)

Stella said...

Wow! Some places are so wonderful that they don't seem real. That being said, some food looks that way too. Yum! I've never seen such an amazing looking lentil soup. Never! I do declare...;)

Moira - Tertúlia de Sabores said...

I love french castles and I love your soup :)

Inn at the Crossroads said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful, beautiful, and inspired blog! We have used an adapted version of your chestnut soup recipe for our own blog, and have linked to you here. Everyone should know about this blog! Keep up the wonderful work!

Inn at the Crossroads said...

Here's the link to our version!