Mid-April we were invited to a dinner party at Sally and Ed’s, along with Jane and Rob. Sally has eleven Siamese cats so one feels like you’re in kitty heaven! They also have 3 dogs, 30-odd sheep, 6 horses, lots of chickens, a couple of ducks and a Guinea pig called “Poo”. Occasionally I house sit for them for a few days, which is always fun and sometimes interesting, like the time Tiger Lily, one of the kitties, decided to use my shoe as a kitty tray…..!
We always have a good time at Sal’s, and Ed keeps the glasses filled so at some point I get poured into the car. Sally is also a very good cook and we were once again treated to a superb meal. For a starter/appetizer, she made a Pumpkin Chestnut Soup which was amazing. I am not normally a huge fan of chestnuts – the one’s one gets at Christmas markets often have the consistency of mushy potatoes and make me want to gag. We collect them in the woods in winter and either make a slit on top and roast them in a dry cast iron skillet on the fire, or cook them in red wine. It’s the ONLY thing I’m looking forward to this coming winter!
But the combination of pumpkin and chestnut worked incredibly well. Sally also used a special ingredient which I unfortunately don’t have and that is Gammon stock. At Christmas time when she boils her gammon before roasting it, she freezes the liquid and uses it in soups. Very clever and very tasty. I have just made the soup and used part beef and part vegetable stock and it tastes really good too, so don’t think you have to rush out and buy a gammon to make this soup. I used my last Butternut – yes, I still had one left from last autumn’s crop. I also added leeks (we have loads in the garden) and carrots (we have loads in the fridge!!) and am very happy with the result. I’ve put my recipe at the end.
For the main course we had Sanglier (wild boar) which was also very good. Sometimes the local hunting dogs get into their fields and frighten the animals, so the hunters will occasionally pop by with a “peace offering”. Bring on the dogs, I say, as the boar meat was delish! She had floured and browned the meat, added bottled ratatouille and put it in the slow cooker for several hours. Then she put it in a casserole dish, topped it with mash potatoes, popped it under the grill to brown and Voila! we had supper! I will be posting a recipe similar to this with pork as we don’t all have access to wild boar meat.
Then we had 3 types of cheese (we are in France so this is a must!) and dessert. Now do you see why I battle with my weight?!?! It was a light pudding made with 0% Fromage Blanc – the US equivalent would be low fat cream cheese – mixed with a vanilla flavoured 40% Fromage Blanc. She topped it with sliced figs she had in the freezer, chopped candied ginger (very mild but with a slight ginger kick) and a swirl of honey. I am not a huge dessert fan, but I really enjoyed it. Again, I’ll get a recipe together for you soon.
PUMPKIN CHESTNUT SOUP
2 onions, peeled and chopped OR 2 leeks, chopped
1 Butternut squash OR 1 small pumpkin, peeled and chopped
10 or more carrots, peeled and chopped
2 liters (8 cups) or more of stock (see NOTE at end of the recipe)
600g (4 cups) cooked chestnuts
Fresh parsley and chives
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Sauté the onion for a couple of minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients - keep some of the fresh herbs to sprinkle on before serving. I added the chive blossoms as well – the flowers are edible and have a lovely oniony taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer till the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
2. Puree the soup till smooth. I use my hand mixer, but you can transfer the soup to a blender/food processor and process it till it is smooth. If you use a blender, remember not to fill it more than halfway as the hot soup could scald you. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
NOTE: As I mentioned earlier, Sally used Gammon stock but I used a mixture of vegetable stock and beef stock which was just as good. Feel free to use stock cubes and water, but do remember that they can be quite salty so be careful adding more salt.