Journey to Corsica: Chestnut Soup & Rose Wine

The beauty of fall makes my heart beat fast: the sight of leaves dressing up in red, orange & yellow like a sunset, the smell of roasted chestnuts on busy streets in Manhattan, refreshing fall mountain air and the crisp sound of my steps on the carpet of falling leaves.  I’m dreaming.  Since California doesn’t have a “real” fall, I have decided to replicate one of my best fall experiences in my kitchen this week.

In the fall of 2007, I went to explore Corsica, “the isle of beauty”, located in the Mediterranean near the French Riviera.  I journeyed on foot through beautiful villages, wild forest and breathtaking rugged mountains.  What I loved most about my trip was that I really got to see rich Corsican culture, while hiking along peaceful, off-the-beaten-path trails away from most tourists.

Corsican cookery is rather rustic.  In the mountains, wild meats like boar, rabbit and pigeon are staples.  Sun-drunk wild berries are also everywhere for walkers to pick and taste.  A key ingredient which makes Corsican cuisine very unique is the chestnut.  Wherever you go in Corsica, you’ll see chestnut flour, chestnut bread, chestnut beer, chestnut spread & chestnut everything!  Free-ranging pigs and wild boar, both of which feed on chestnuts, are also commonly eaten in both cured and cooked form.  Additionally, Corsica, one of the oldest of wine regions, produces delicious wines. Wild grapes were even growing on this isle of beauty 6000 years ago!

In order to add a gorgeous Corsican sunset to my dining experience, I am opening a coral-pink colored Corsican dry rosé wine, 2009 Antoine Arena Patrimonio AOC.  This rosé is made from Nielluccio red grape varietals (i.e. the Corsican version of the Chianti region’s Sangiovese grape).  It has a lot of body, sour cherry & earthy flavors with a hint of thyme and a “mouth-cleansing” crisp finish.  I find it extremely food friendly.

Pairing this rosé wine to an autumn chestnut soup is heavenly.  First, I slit the shell of 2 lbs of chestnuts, roast @ 425F for 20 minutes and peel the shells.  Then, I stir fry 1 red onion (chopped), 1 cup celery (chopped), 6 cloves garlic (minced), 2 bay leaves and 4 potatoes (chopped) with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.  When the onion gets soft, I add roasted chestnuts and enough of the chicken stock to cover all the ingredients and then simmer until the potatoes get tender.  Lastly, I add juice from 1/2 fresh lemon, 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon fresh basil and a couple of thyme sprigs to the saucepan and simmer for additional 10 minutes.

The fragrant aromas of the soup – thyme, rosemary and basil – are very enticing.  And, the lemon and celery nicely accentuate the rich chicken stock, as well as the delicate, nutty, sweet flavors of chestnuts and potatoes.  With a sip of the Corsican rosé wine, this delicious soup becomes even tastier.  The subtle hint of thyme in the wine brings out the pleasant herbal aromas of the soup.  The flavor of sour cherry in the wine also balances out the richness of the chicken stock while nicely complementing the citrus background of the soup.  This pairing is like a duet of a dynamic soprano and tenor.  Deep flavors of the soup & wine linger in the mouth for a long time, like the unforgettable sound of an opera singer’s voice echoing in my ears after the end of a performance.

I think this recipe will be great for left-over Turkey on the day after Thanksgiving.  Chicken stock can be easily substituted with turkey stock.  Try it and let me know what you think, my foodie friends!  Happy cooking!

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