I purchased a copy of the Annotated Christmas Carol to read this year. This is hardcore stuff folks. If you aren’t familiar with annotated versions of books then you are in for a treat of book-gasmic proportions. My gorgeous hardcover copy of a Christmas Carol not only includes the entire original 1843 text and over 100 lovely illustrations, but it’s also filled with oodles and oodles of footnoted (in a very non-annoying manner) festive facts and trivia pertaining to all sorts of items and plot points in the story. These range from word spellings and origins, to why someone might wear black gloves, and even a period recipe for minced pie. It makes my cold, hard English major heart sing. Also, coincidentally enough, when I used to work at Simmons, I actually conversed via email with the editor, Michael Patrick Hearn, from time to time (he was exceedingly polite) and even escorted him over to the dorm room he stayed in while teaching on campus (such are the duties of the office secretary).
Which leads me now to chestnuts. Chestnuts are quintessentially Christmas. Nat King Cole famously sings about them each year and Charles Dickens refers to them on four separate occasions in a Christmas Carol. Dickens in the king of Christmas as we know it today and as I adore all things British and Christmas I thought it would be a festive folly to attempt to roast my own chestnuts. The BBC made it sound dead simple and I shockingly found a large basket of chestnuts in my local grocery store so I brought a bunch home, grabbed my sharpest pairing knife, and started carving crosses into each nut.
However, at this point I feel it is my duty to warn you that on a scale of 1 to 10 on the holiday horrors scale, with 1 being having your photo taken with a mall Santa and 10 being strangled by mistletoe, roasting chestnuts appears as a solid 8. You see, I found out that chestnuts are actually a bit evil.
When I removed the baking dish of hot chestnuts from my oven they seemed perfectly fine and rather benign, but as I prepared a space on my counter to being peeling them one suddenly and very loudly exploded in front of me and flew across the kitchen. Needless to say I screamed like a little girl when this happened. Thankfully I had turned away from the counter at that very second or I probably would have been punched in the face by a 400 degree Christmas icon. But the chestnuts weren’t nearly done with me. Peeling these things was a bit of a nightmare. Have you ever gotten a splinter under your fingernail? Well chestnut shell slivers hurt about 300 times more. Not to mention that I ruined my two-day old manicure prying the golden nuts from their shells. It’s a good thing they tasted toasty and yummy or I would have really been wild.
So after the harrowing part of this little experiment ended I decided to use my little labor intensive pile of nuts to make Roasted Chestnut Risotto. This is a recipe from Formaggio Kitchen in Boston and I absolutely loved how it came out. The chestnuts really complimented the nuttiness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the thyme gave the risotto a really earthy hint of flavor. The parsley was optional but I think you should definitely use it as the color of the dish really pops against the golden chestnuts.
Of course, now I really want to make this recipe again, so I need your help readers. What is the secret to roasting chestnuts in a more efficient and less hostile manner? Some sites suggest that I should have boiled them and then roasted them. Others say you can just boil them (um..how does that make them “roasted then?) and I’ve even come across the suggestion that you should just buy them from a friendly street vendor and call it a day. What do you think is the best course of action?
PS: Thank you to my blogging bestie for helping me find the Alexander Henry Merry Main Street fabric I used in these photos.
Roasted Chestnut Risotto
Originally published on Formaggio Kitchen’s Cheese Blog
7 cups chicken broth
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
2 cups roasted, peeled chestnuts, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. fresh thyme
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring water or chicken broth to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil until shimmering in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add rice and stir until it starts to turn translucent at edges, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup warming water or broth. Stirring often, simmer until the liquid is almost all absorbed, about 4 minutes. Keep adding 1 cup of liquid at a time, making sure each addition of liquid is absorbed before adding the next. Stir frequently, until rice is just tender, about 25 minutes total. It’s ok if you don’t need all of your liquid. If you happen to need more liquid, add warm water. Stir in roasted chestnuts and thyme. Remove from heat; stir in butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and serve.