Roasted Chestnut Risotto

December 5, 2011 · 17 comments · Print This Post

in Dinner, Holidays / Entertaining


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
Serves 6

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.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy December 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Wow, they exploded? Did you not score them with a knife width-wise? We roast ours in the oven and they’re pretty easy but probably not as good as using the chestnut roasting pan they have here in Italy (with holes on the bottom). 200C (so 400F) for about 20-25 minutes.

For the cut across the top of the chestnut, we go relatively deep, definitely breaking the shell and perhaps even 1/2 way into the chestnut.

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2 Erin December 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Hmm…interesting. I scored them but I didn’t really get in there super deep. So I’ll really make sure to hack into them next time. And yes, one definitely tried to take me out. Leave it to me to mess-up a cooking function that probably everyone else finds effortless ;)

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3 Susie January 24, 2012 at 12:06 am

I came across your site after we had an exploding incident. Normally we buy vacuum packed ready peeled for tossing in with the sprouts but couldn’t find any so went for th oven method and bang bang. Fortunatwly the turkey was still covered and the roasties not yet in the oven. I actually vacuumed the oven!!! Also peeling them my thumbs were agony well beyond boxing day.
Anyway, after much searching came across this method which worked very well. Cut in half with heavy knife, boil for 8 minutes, plunge into ice cold water then they peeled very easily. I guess you could then put them in h oven for a Quick roast, but i wanted to make this risotto which was lish P

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4 Marisa December 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm

When I was 9 years old, my mom and I came across a cache of chestnuts on the lawn of the local high school (in fact, the one I later attended). We brought them home, and not knowing anything having to do with chestnut protocol, just popped them into the oven to roast. Well, they exploded. Every single one of them. The oven was covered in burnt nutmeat. I have not attempted chestnuts since.

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5 Erin December 6, 2011 at 6:12 pm

I don’t blame you! One exploding nut was traumatizing enough. I probably would have fainted dead away if they all went off. These nuts sure seem like tricky little buggers.

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6 Theresa December 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Are you in my head? Weird. I just bought some chestnuts from a local farmer this weekend, and I picked up some arborrio rice this weekend too. Guess what I’m making soon!

I asked the chestnut farmer about 300 questions because I’ve never eaten or cooked chestnuts before. He gave me a handy pamphlet and demonstrated proper scoring technique for me. You need to put an X all the way though the flat side of the shell so the steam can escape. He suggested roasting them at 350 for about 15 minutes. I saw somewhere online that you can turn off the oven and leave them in there for a few minutes in case one explodes.

You can also boil them for 30-60 minutes, depending on how soft you want them.

Also, his chestnuts are “cured” – allowed to sit at room temp for 7-20 days after they are harvested. This makes them sweeter and also easier to peel. If they’re hard to peel, yours might have been too fresh.

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7 Erin December 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

This is EXACTLY what I needed to know. Thank you! I obviously misconstrued what “score” means. I always assumed it was a light cut. Not so much it would appear. I’m looking forward to seeing your completed dish. Good luck!

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8 Jessica December 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I have no secret! Except once I forgot them in the oven and they started going off like little guns and one shot out so loud I about peed my pants!

If you figure out a trick, you have to make sure and do a how to post! :-)

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9 Erin December 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Thank you for admitting that your chestnuts exploded as well. I feel like I’m in good company now :)

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10 Rita - Comfortisse Bra December 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm

We love roasting chestnuts in my family during the holidays and this sounds like such a great dish to prepare for the holidays.

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11 Sandy December 8, 2011 at 6:38 am

Erin, haven’t read all your comments but….the secret to NON-EXPLODING chestnuts (and easier peeling) is to slice an X in them opposite the ‘white spot’ with a very sharp kitchen knife. Spritzing with water and letting them sit covered with foil for a few minutes after baking also helps. Good luck!!
We have been ‘roasting’ chestnuts at our community “Jingle Down Main” for about 15 years now on the bbq. It works well too:)

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12 Sandy December 8, 2011 at 6:39 am

OOH, should have added, the X should cut through the shell to the nutmeat. We usually try NOT to cut into the nutmeat too much.

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13 Erin December 8, 2011 at 9:24 am

Thanks for the tips Sandy! I appreciate you taking the time to give me a few more helpful hints. I don’t want to develop some sort of chestnut phobia ;)

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14 Joan December 8, 2011 at 9:49 am

Hi Erin, I’m a little late getting into this, but I roast chestnuts every year, for my Thanksgiving dressing. I do what Sara does – a deep ‘X’ (it’s not easy…) and onto a baking sheet for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. When they come out of the oven, wrap then in a dishtowel for 5 minutes (no idea why…) and then start cracking them open. You can also cheat and buy them in a jar at Williams-Sonoma or Whole Foods – very expensive!

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15 Audrey December 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Thank you for sharing this recipe! I tried roasting chestnuts once (only once) but never again … I treat myself to one expensive jar at Whole Foods every year {they usually go on sale sometime in November and then they’ll only barely unaffordable) and have them all to myself because no one else in my family likes them. This would be a perfect way to use up some of my stash.

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16 Erin December 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Thanks for the tip. I just looked them up on Williams-Sonoma and they’re priced at $16.95 – $29.95. I think that’s a bargain considering my ruined manicure, splinters, and the time it took to peel the silly things. Sometimes items are jarred in a convenient manner for a very good reason, right ;)

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