BARLEY AND CHESTNUT SOUP

This is chestnut season.
In a recent visit to my mother’s alpine village the trees were in ‘their autumn beauty’ and the chestnuts trees were the most abundant. The woodland paths were wet and thick with leaves and spiny ‘burs’ filled with nuts. I picked many.
During a walk through the village I met a local man who was roasting the nuts to be preserved in jars coated with a sugary syrup (the nuts, not the jar!). My next door neighbour gave me a bag full of them already cooked and peeled and every local restaurant we eat in had their special dish – from starter to dessert – where the chestnuts featured heavily. During a get together with cousins we reminded ourselves how our grandmother and mothers used to cook a favourite very simple soup.
Here it is:

BARLEY AND CHESTNUT SOUP

Ingredients
120g dried or already boiled and peeled chestnuts (these are available in jars or vacuum-packed),

100g pearl barley,
1 potato,
1 celery stick,
1 carrot,
1 onion,
1 nut of butter,
salt
milk (optional)

Method
If using dried chestnuts soak them in water overnight.
Soak the barley for 2 hours.
Finely chop the carrot, celery and onion and peel and cut the potato in small cubes.
In a pot fry the vegetables in butter for a few minutes and then add 2 litres of boiling water if using the dried chestnuts – or 1 litre if using the already boiled ones. Add some salt.
Drain the chestnuts and add them to the pot.
Cook on a low heat for 90minutes – if using the dried chestnuts – or 10 minutes if using the already boiled ones. .
Drain the barely and add it to the pot.
Cook for another 30min and then serve hot.

My grandmother used to add some milk to the pot at the end of the cooking and I do too.