|Chestnut Risotto with Butternut Squash based on a Recipe from Bon Appetit|
Inevitably my thoughts turn to my travels. The romantic in me draws a fine line between reality and real life with constant daydreaming. In Italy, the beginning of the autumn season is more than just a drop in temperatures, the changing colours of the landscape, or the reappearance of warm sweaters and scarves in our wardrobes. Here, where regional cooking is still very much connected to the land, the change of season is also evident in the markets and on the kitchen tables across the country. As we now bid farewell to summer for another year, the abundance of Italy’s autumn foods are just waiting to be discovered. Even here in Canada my kitchen reflects the seasons.
Autumn arrives across Italy with the grape harvest (la vendemmia), when the heavy clusters of grapes warmed in the summer sun are carefully cut from the vines and wineries burst to life. Along the rolling hills and terraces, the vines are already heralding the change of season with their many hues of yellows and reds. But ripening grapes are not the only treat you will find in Italy during the fall. October is also the month of castagne (chestnuts), and nothing says autunno more than the warm scent of roasting chestnuts. Right now the chestnuts are maturing in their prickly burrs, and will soon coat Italy’s country roads, ready to be collected.
|Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, Italy|
|Gellatly Nut Farm in West Kelowna|
In Italy, every part of the tree is used. The leaves became litter for cow byres while the wood has many uses. I have tried a soup with the peeled chestnuts and had them ground into flour for homemade bread. The flavour of the creamy white chestnut flesh is sweet and somewhat starchy with a crisp texture. Fresh chestnuts have the consistency of potatoes when boiled or roasted. Store chestnuts in the fridge in a breathable container such as a brown paper bag. They will last up to a month. Alternatively they can also be frozen raw or after being cooked.
|Some of the nuts grown at the farm|
To peel and use in stews or stuffings, score with an “x” and pour boiling water over them and let the chestnuts sit for approximately 20 minutes. They should peel easily...even the fuzzy inner layer which is bitter.
The inspiration for this risotto dish came from a walk along the sun-dappled paths of a historical farm in the Okanagan Valley. My thoughts drifted to an early morning hike where we wandered along cobbled mule-tracks or footpaths in Italy through olive and lemon groves and chestnut forests to descend into a deep densely forested valley carpeted in green moss.
When I travel or simply wander on a crisp autumn day I have always taken hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. Long before blogging I was taking photos of the food at my table while on even the smallest of adventures. There’s something so evocative to me about pictures of food and the power they have to vividly remind me of mouth-watering meals and moments that I’ve had on my adventures. I can look at my culinary photos and remember exactly where I was, the scent of the dish placed in front of me, and the way the flavours opened up on my palate. In many cases the taste or smell of something in my past is capable of painting a picture with richer, deeper brush strokes than any snapshot in my photo album. Recreate a delicious risotto with autumn flavours in your kitchen and I guarantee you will make your own food memories.
|European Chestnuts from Gellatly Nut Farm|
**Chestnut Risotto with Butternut Squash**
based on a recipe from Bon Appetit
6 cups low-salt chicken broth
1/4 cup Riesling or other wine on the sweeter scale
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups (10 ounces) arborio rice
2 cups peeled roasted chestnuts*, or jarred chestnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Bring chicken broth to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat oil and 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, chestnuts and squash; cook until onion is translucent, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
Add garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to burn it.
Add rice to the onion-squash-chestnut mixture and stir to coat the grains with the butter, cooking about 2-3 minutes until rice is translucent at the edges but still opaque in the centre. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates.
Add 1 cup warm broth; simmer until almost absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next until rice is just tender, stirring frequently, about 25 minutes total. Stir in thyme, and marjoram. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, cheese, and parsley. Season risotto with salt and pepper and serve.
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