Have you got any half-full bottles of prosecco or champagne left over from New Year’s festivities? OK, don’t scoff — there are some of us who don’t quaff down a whole bottle in one sitting. In addition to the leftover prosecco, there were a dozen chestnuts and a small hunk of butternut squash in the fridge still uncooked and in search of a recipe. Hence the amalgam of these ingredients and birth of this risotto dish.
You can also use already-peeled chestnuts from France that come in a glass jar, but since I had these fresh ones, I cut them in half and plunked them into a pot of boiling water – not long enough to cook them through, but long enough to loosen the shell and pry out the interior. Click here for a more thorough explanation of how to do it.
I thought I’d finally inaugurate this heavy copper pot with the risotto – a pot I bought in the town of Guardiagrele, Italy last summer, but still hadn’t used. It reminded to me that I’ve got a lot of kitchen tools that sit around unused because they’re in cabinets where I don’t often see them. So I’m taking it upon myself to pull out some of these pots, pans, and other gadgets more frequently in my attempt to “use it or lose it.”
After cooking the risotto in this copper pot, I may never make risotto again in any other vessel. The heavy-gauge pan ensures really even cooking without any hot spots. And it’s beautiful to look at as well.
Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients at the ready before starting to cook. Missing, but vital, to the dish, is the prosecco (use dry white wine if you haven’t got prosecco), as well as butter and extra virgin olive oil. Dice the squash into small pieces because the squash needs to be small enough to cook while you’re stirring it into the risotto. That should take only about 20 minutes. Make sure you make a little extra risotto, because my next post is a truly irresistible treat using leftover risotto.
First thing you do is soften the shallots in a mixture of butter and olive oil, then stir the grains of risotto about for a bit — a process called “tostatura.” You don’t want the grains to turn brown, so just quickly heat the exterior for three or four minutes or until the grains are opaque. This will allow the rice to soak up the liquids without becoming soggy. By the way, make sure to use carnaroli, vialone nano or arborio rice, short grain varieties that release a lot of starch, adding a creaminess to the dish.
Then it’s time for the prosecco (or dry white wine). Don’t forget the cook needs a sample!
Add the vegetables and chestnuts, and a bit of chicken broth, a ladle full at a time. When the rice is cooked (about 20 minutes or so), it’s time for the “mantecatura.” Take it off the heat, add some dollops of cold butter …
1 cup rice – arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano
1 large shallot
2 T. butter
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup butternut squash, diced in small pieces
1/2 cup chestnuts, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup dry white wine or prosecco
2 cups (or more) hot chicken broth
a couple more tablespoons butter and parmesan cheese to taste (1/4 cup) for the mantecatura
Place the olive oil and butter in a saucepan and add the rice. Toss the rice for a few minutes to coat, but don’t let the grains brown. Pour in the prosecco and stir, then add the squash and chestnuts and a ladleful of the broth. Continue stirring and continue adding broth, one ladle at a time, until the rice is cooked and tender to the bite. Season with salt and white pepper. Remove from the heat and add the cold butter and parmesan cheese.
Pardon me while I sing a few bars of “The Christmas Song,” more readily known by its opening lyrics “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
I couldn’t help myself as I sat in front of the fireplace yesterday, shaking a pan filled with chestnuts resting on hot embers. I decided to make a chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing for my Thanksgiving turkey and wanted to get a jump-start on the chestnuts.
Chestnuts are used much more commonly in Italy, where towns even hold chestnut festivals (sagre de castagne) in the fall. We visited one such town – Soriano – in October, where chestnuts were roasted on huge mesh-bottomed pans out in the streets. After about twenty minutes of vigorous jostling back and forth by a Soriano resident, where many of the chestnut skins fell away from the nutmeat, the chestnuts were then dumped into a straw basket and handed out free in small paper bags to any and all nearby.
Maybe it was the atmosphere as much as the open fire roasting, but these were the best chestnuts I had ever eaten.
We also visited some friends who live just outside of Rome and gathered dozens of chestnuts from their trees, hoping to bring back some untreated nuts to start our own cluster of chestnut trees. Check back with me in the spring to see if they have germinated.
But I digress.
OK, so back to the fireplace, which is where I sat yesterday, shaking my chestnuts in a pan punctuated with holes on the bottom. Don’t ask me where I got the pan. I’ve had it for a couple of decades. Don’t worry if you don’t have such a pan, you can use a cast iron skillet. No fireplace? No problem. You can cook chestnuts in the oven too. First, with a knife, cut an “x” on the chestnuts and soak them in water for about 15 minutes. Do this if you’re roasting on an open fire too. Drain the chestnuts, put them on a cookie sheet or pan and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, shaking them once or twice. Peel them, using a napkin or paper towel to protect your fingers from the heat and blackened outer skins. There’s also a very thin inner skin that needs to come off too. Sometimes it comes off easily, but sometimes it’s a battle between you and the chestnut. For all of you who think this is too much fuss, I recently discovered that you can buy already cooked and peeled chestnuts in a glass jar at the supermarket. Whichever way you decide, once you’ve got the chestnuts, you’re ready to make the stuffing.
Chestnut, sausage and apple stuffing
1 16-ounce package Pepperidge Farm cornbread stuffing mix (or any other brand or type of bread)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 pound roasted chestnuts, broken into pieces
2 apples, diced in large pieces
2 1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth
1 stick butter, melted
Remove the casings from the sausage and saute in the olive oil, breaking it up into clumps. Add the onions and celery and saute until the meat is cooked and the vegetables are limp. Add the chestnut pieces and swirl around to mix the flavors. Pour the stuffing mix into a large bowl and add the sausage and chestnut mixture, plus the apple pieces. Add the broth and the butter, using more broth if necessary to make a moist stuffing. This will make more than enough to stuff a 12-pound bird with enough left for a casserole. Bake the casserole at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.