Nonna’s wild fennel and roasted chestnut soup recipe

Nonna’s wild fennel and roasted chestnut soup

This is my Nonna’s wild fennel and roasted chestnut soup which I wrote about in this story for SBS Food. This recipe, shared with me by my mother which we recorded together, was something her mother, my Nonna, used to make during the cold winters in Sardinia. 

Some notes about the ingredients…the original version of this soup was made using wild fennel that Mum and her family would pick in the fields nearby. Obviously this is not an option for me so I use dill or even fennel fronds. My Nonna also used black-eyed peas, which my Mum prefers for their nutty flavour and contrast with the chestnuts, but personally I prefer cannellini beans which I use as an alternative. The chestnuts, like the fennel were also handpicked/found locally, and since I make this soup all year round I use vacuum sealed chestnuts as these are always available. Of course, if you have access to fresh chestnuts, please use those.

Despite this being cooked by my Nonna in winter I actually find this quite a lovely and fresh soup for the hotter months. I love that’s it’s easy to put together, and has beautiful fresh and earthy flavours. I think of my Nonna now every time I make it.



Nonna’s wild fennel and roasted chestnut soup 

Makes four to six servings


One white or brown, medium sized onion (130-150g), chopped finely

Half a can of diced tomatoes or two tomatoes (120g), chopped roughly

Two garlic cloves (15g), chopped finely 

Two metric cups of fennel, chopped roughly

One 400g can of black-eyed peas or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well

Vacuum sealed chestnuts, 200g 

Quality olive oil for cooking

Three cups of room temperature water, 750ml

Dill or fennel fronds, to garnish (roughly one palmful per person)

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat your oven to 180°, and while you wait for the oven to heat up, line an oven tray with baking paper. Scatter the chestnuts on the tray so there is space between them. While scattering them onto the tray, squeeze each chestnut lightly in your hand until they crumble into smaller pieces like little croutons


In the meantime, on the stovetop – prepare the soup base and add one tablespoon of olive oil to a medium to large sized soup pot on medium heat 


Once the oil has heated up add the onion, garlic and the tomatoes. Stir together and lightly fry for a minute or so at which point add the fennel until it pales in colour and you can smell a subtle sweetness


When the oven has reached 180°, place the tray with chestnuts into the oven and roast for 45 minutes


Return to the soup pot and now add the black-eyed or cannellini beans, followed by three cups of water. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste, stir and leave the soup to simmer until the chestnuts finish cooking (they should be a golden brown and crunchy)


Once the chestnuts have cooked remove the tray from the oven, taste the soup and check that the beans have been cooked through. If not, continue simmering until they have, and stir the cooked chestnuts into the soup which you can now take off the heat


Serve the soup with a palm sized sprinkling of either roughly chopped dill or fennel fronds per person.