I used to be quite intimidated by chestnuts. Having had no training in food, other than a decade or so of following my eyes and stomach, I know what I know based on impulsive decisions made in supermarkets and the contents of a fair few stuffed notebooks. If I don’t know what something is or what to do with it, I bung it in to a risotto while I work it out. There’s not much that won’t be complemented by creamy, soupy rice, and this is no exception. These days, I can do a lot more with a tin (yes, a tin) of chestnuts than a humble risotto, but this is so delicious that I had to include it. If you don’t like chestnuts or can’t get hold of them, use a few big handfuls of mushrooms instead for an equally good dinner.
- 1 onion
- 2 fat cloves of garlic
- a fistful of thyme, or 1 scant tablespoon dried mixed herbs
- 2 tablespoons oil, sunflower or groundnut
- 100g bacon – smoked streaky is my favourite but any will do
- 200g rice
- a knob of butter
- 100g chestnuts, tinned or vacuum-packed
- 800ml chicken stock
- salt and pepper
- 50g hard, strong cheese
Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Pick the thyme leaves, discarding the stalks, and chop, if using. Heat the oil in a medium frying pan, then add the onion and garlic with the thyme, or the dried mixed herbs. Sweat over a low heat for 8–10 minutes to soften the onions and sweeten the garlic, stirring every now and again. Chop the bacon.
When the onions have softened, add the rice and butter. Stir to melt the butter, and turn up the heat. When the ends of the rice grains are translucent, add the bacon and chestnuts, and stir again.
Pour over a little stock, around a quarter of it, and leave to absorb. When the rice has drunk up all the liquid, add another quarter, and stir. Repeat until all the stock is used up and the rice is tender and soupy. Taste, and season.
Remove from the heat and allow to rest for a few minutes. Grate the cheese, scatter over the top and serve.
Tip: Don’t have any thyme? How about topping with finely chopped sage for an earthy wintery flavour to complement the creamy chestnuts.