Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and next 2 ingredients, and sauté 8 to 10 minutes or until tender.
Add Marsala, and cook 2 minutes, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Stir in vegetable broth, chestnuts, and thyme. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until chestnuts are tender. Discard thyme. Let cool slightly (about 10 minutes).
Process soup, in batches, in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to Dutch oven. Stir in half-and-half and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat, stirring often, 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serve with desired toppings.
*1/4 cup dry white wine and 1 tsp. brandy may be substituted.
**Roasted, peeled fresh chestnuts may be substituted.
Note: We tested with Minerve Whole Chestnuts in Water, which can be found on the baking aisle.
This was the star of this year's Christmas dinner. Only made one change and that was to substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth. As suggested in the recipe, garnished the soup with crème fraîche and dried cherries. The cherries tasted so good once they were reconstituted with the soup. Only hard part was finding chestnuts!
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