This chestnut risotto is a wonderfully autumnal rice dish. The chestnuts add a lovely gently sweet nutty flavor that helps make this a delicious, comforting vegetarian main, or you can enjoy it as a side.
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Chestnuts have long been a favorite of mine, but like some other favorites with relatively short seasons, I sometimes miss enjoying them as much as I would like. While in Australia, where they seem to be more readily available in autumn, I was determined to make the most of them.
Italy is somewhere that really appreciates chestnuts and you'll find them in many dishes in the North where they grow. You'll find recipes using the nuts, puree and flour, both sweet and savory.
This risotto is from the Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) region in Northwest Italy. It's a simple variation on the classic rice dish with pieces of chestnut mixed in. They add a subtle, earthy flavor that work really well.
About some of the ingredients
Not surprisingly, one of the key ingredients in a risotto is the rice. Traditionally, you use arborio rice which is also from the Piedmont region. It's a short grain rice which is relatively starchy. This means it both absorb flavor as it cooks and give a relatively creamy texture. It's pretty widely available these days so do try to find it.
For this dish it's best to use fresh chestnuts and roast the chestnuts yourself first as this gives them the best flavor. If you are worried that they might be a little dry, then you can boil them instead. This can be done ahead, so it can be good to roast some extra and enjoy some as a snack and the rest for this.
If fresh chestnuts are not available, you could use some of the pre-cooked chestnuts that you can find in supermarkets, however the flavor and texture is not as good, especially for this dish.
You can use either chicken or vegetable stock fo this, depending on what you have and whether you want to make it vegetarian. Ideally, use homemade stock as the flavor is going to come through. It's a lot easier than you might think! I tend to collect up scraps of vegetables and also chicken bones and make a batch when I have a decent amount. Then I put stock into ice cube trays ready to use as and when.
Finally, don't skip the white wine and parmesan, and use good quality of both. This dish doesn't have that many ingredients, as I say, so it's worth using good quality ones since the flavor comes through. If you prefer, you can use pecorino rather than parmesan.
How to vary this dish
While this is tasty just as it is, I've also seen a few versions with added porcini mushrooms in there for extra flavor. I can see them pairing well, though I think you'll find it harder to pick out the chestnut flavor. So, it's almost a different dish, but no doubt still tasty.
I have added parsley here at the end, but I have also seen some add a little rosemary. While it's a less typical addition to risotto, the herb pairs well with chestnuts. I can see it adding to the autumnal vibe the dish has, too.
This chestnut risotto is a tasty variation on the classic rice dish with earthy, autumnal flavors. It makes a great meal on it's own as well as pairing well with a range of mains as a side. So roast up some extra chestnuts and enjoy.
Try these other risotto recipes:
- Saffron risotto
- Pumpkin risotto
- Butternut squash risotto with chicken and arugula
- Plus get more Italian recipes and fall recipes in the archives.
- 10 oz chestnuts 285g, fresh with shells on
- ½ onion or 1 or 2 shallots
- 2 tablespoon butter 28g
- 1 ½ cups arborio rice 300g
- ¼ cup white wine 60ml (4tbsp)
- 3 cups stock 720ml, vegetable or chicken, as you prefer
- ½ cup grated parmesan 25g
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or more to taste
- a little salt and pepper to taste
- To roast chestnuts, follow instructions in how to roast chestnuts, - in summary you score the skins, wash them, then roast on a baking sheet around 15 minutes at 425F/210C. Once cooked, allow to cool just enough to be able to handle then peel - they peel best when still warm so try to cover those you are not working on. Roughly chop the chestnuts, keeping one or two larger pieces for garnish if you like.
- Dice the onion relatively small. Warm the butter in a medium pan over a medium heat then add the onion.
- Cook for around 5 minutes until the onion softens, but make sure it doesn't brown (reduce heat or add a little more butter, if needed).
- Add the rice and cook for a minute or two so that it becomes glossy from the butter. Add the wine and let it bubble away until it is largely absorbed.
- Then add just enough stock to cover the rice and the chestnuts. Keep adding a little more stock (around ½ to 1 cup at a time) as the previous amount is absorbed, stirring now and then so that it doesn't stick. Typically, it doesn't need stirred much to start with but more towards the end.
- Once the rice is cooked to just al dente and the stock has been absorbed, remove form the heat. Stir through the parmesan and parsley so that all are well distributed and the cheese melts into the risotto. Adjust seasoning to taste, if needed, and serve.
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