“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Roasting On An Open Fire - Not!

So last time the mystery food item was identified in record time...

There is more to the humble chestnut than just roasting on an open fire, or adding them to stuffing. Chestnuts are shiny brown nuts whose thick casing has long, sharp, needle-like spikes (burrs). There are usually two to four nuts per casing. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts have a high starch and water content but low protein and fat levels. They've never been as popular in British kitchens as in Continental ones, but they're a versatile and flavourful storecupboard ingredient.

So what can you do with them? Well, try this vegetarian winter warmer...

Winter nettle and chestnut risotto


2 pints nettles (measured when picked), loosely packed
8 tbsp unsalted butter
approx. 1 litre vegetable or light chicken stock
2 shallots, finely diced
fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, bay)
200g/7¼oz arborio rice
250ml/8¾fl oz dry white wine
230g/8oz peeled chestnuts, chopped in half
lemon juice
2oz fresh parmesan, finely grated, to serve

Preparation method

Wash the nettles in a large bowl, allowing any debris to drop to the bottom. Pick out any thick or tough stems. Do not be concerned that the washing water is peaty brown, this is normal.
To cook the nettles, heat one tablespoon of butter in a large pan over a high heat and drop in the leaves. Allow them to wilt and cook until they are tender.
Strain through a sieve, catching any liquid in a bowl. Squeeze the nettles and remove to a board, chopping them roughly. Set aside in a cool place while you make the risotto.
Heat the stock in a pan. Melt half the remaining butter in a large heavy pan, adding the shallots and stirring to soften them. Add two bay leaves and a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme. Cook the shallots until they are tender and clear, then add the rice, stirring to allow all of the rice to be coated with some of the fat.
Add the wine and stir. While the wine is being absorbed, turn the heat to a medium simmer. Add ladlefuls of stock - two at first, and allow each addition to be absorbed. When two thirds of the stock is absorbed, add the chopped nettles and allow them to continue cooking in the rice. At this stage, add the chestnuts - they will break down slightly in the pan.
When most of the stock is absorbed, check the rice - it ought to be just cooked, the sauce still emulsified. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add the remaining butter and the parmesan, and serve with a sprinkle of lemon juice and a little freshly chopped parsley.

Or try this hearty soup..

Chestnut, roasted butternut squash and Bramley apple soup


1.5kg/3lb 5oz butternut squash, seeds removed, flesh cut into large wedges
5 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 potatoes, cut into cubes
1 Bramley apple, peeled, core removed, flesh chopped
2 litres/3½ pints hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
500g/1lb 2oz chestnuts, roasted and peeled, plus extra, sliced, to serve
400g/14oz ready-made chestnut purée
salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve
truffle oil, for drizzling
double cream, for drizzling (optional)

Preparation method

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Place the butternut squash pieces into a roasting tin and drizzle over three tablespoons of the olive oil. Transfer to the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and golden-brown. Set aside to cool.
When the butternut squash has cooled, drain off the oil and peel away the skin, taking care not to burn your fingers.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onion, garlic, potatoes and apple and fry for 4-5 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened.
Add the stock, roasted squash, thyme, bay leaves, chestnuts and the chestnut purée. Stir well and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bring the mixture to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Set aside to cool.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend until smooth. Return to the pan and heat until warmed through.
To serve, divide the soup equally between ten serving bowls. Garnish each serving with a few drops of truffle oil and cream (if using) and sprinkle over the sliced roasted chestnuts.

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