This rich velvety soup is a wonderful way to begin this festive meal. If you can find jarred or frozen peeled chestnuts, it will cut down on your preparation time considerably. If using fresh chestnuts, see the preparation instructions following in this recipe and plan to prepare them in advance. (Peeled chestnuts are sold at Asian markets at a fraction of the cost in supermarkets.) For a thinner but still rich soup, add up to one cup of almond milk close to serving time.
Adapted from "Party Vegan" by Robin Robertson.
Thinly slice 4 of the cooked chestnuts and set them aside. In a large saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery. Cover and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.
Add the remaining chestnuts, parsley, thyme, broth, and salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the reserved sliced chestnuts and cook until browned on both sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
Puree the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, and return to the pot. Reheat over medium heat until hot, add the brandy, if using. If the soup is too thick, add up to ½ cup more broth or up to 1 cup of almond milk. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with celery leaves and the reserved chestnuts.
*Note: If using fresh chestnuts, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use a sharp paring knife to cut an "x" on the flat side of each chestnut shell. Arrange the chestnuts on a baking sheet and roast until the shells begin to curl open, 15 to 20 minutes. While the chestnuts are still warm, remove the outer shell and inner skin of each chestnut. The chestnuts are now ready to use.