Chestnuts may seem like a bit of a la-di-dah ingredient, but if you can wait until after the Christmas season, you can often find them reduced in supermarkets and their outlet stores as they try to shift their stock to make way for the next seasonal celebration. My best bargain was found by my friend Caroline, who came to see me one morning with half a dozen packets of Merchant Gourmet chestnuts reduced from £2 down to 20p a packet – which would be unfair of me to price them as such in this recipe, but does make it a lot cheaper! This stands up well as a dish in its own right, but also makes a comforting creamy side for sausages and greens, if you want to stretch it out a little further.
(I provide links to the ingredients that I use so you can see how I calculate my recipe costs, and I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any ingredients.)
To make it vegan, replace the butter with cooking oil or vegan spread, the cream with soya cream, and the cheese with a hard strong vegan equivalent, like Violife.
Serves 4-6, from 82p each.
200g onion, 12p (60p/1kg)
2 tbsp cooking oil, 3p (£1.09/1l)
250g brown rice, 24p (94p/1kg)
150g pearl barley, 17p (55p/500g)
180g chestnuts, £2.25 (£2.25/180g)
75g mixed nuts, 49p (98p/150g)
1.8l chicken style or vegetable stock, 5p (39p/12 stock cubes – I use two for this amount)
187ml white wine, £1 (I use this alcohol-free one here)
1 tbsp white vinegar, <1p (29p/168ml)
a generous grind of black pepper, <1p
2 tbsp butter, 5p (55p/250g)
1 tsp mixed dried herbs, 5p (30p/18g)
50g hard strong cheese, 47p (£1.60/170g)
Single cream to finish, optional
First, peel and dice the onion (I admit to using frozen diced onions more often than not these days, but when I forget and succumb to the big cheap bag of onions, I fling them in .this nifty contraption. which makes short sharp work of them – and no tears! Handy on ‘bad hands’ days, but also on slightly lazier ones too.) However you end up with your diced onion, toss it into a large, wide nonstick pan, on a medium hob ring. Add the oil and place on a low heat for 10 minutes to sweat and soften the onions.
Measure in your rice – I opted for brown for flavour here, with pearl barley for texture and a creamy stodge, but white rice will do fine if that’s all you have. Add the pearl barley, and toast the rice for a minute or two before pouring over the wine and vinegar. Add most of the chestnuts, and the mixed dried herbs, and stir in.
Make up a jug of stock, and add it to the pan a splash at a time, stirring well to disturb the ingredients and stop them from sticking to the pan and burning. Cook low and slow on a medium-low heat for 40 minutes, stirring every few minutes to release the starches from the grains, which is what gives risotto its lovely creamy texture. It may seem like it will take forever with brown rice, and I apologise slightly, for it is not the most yielding of varieties, but it will get there, I promise.
When the rice and barley are soft and swollen, remove from the heat and stir in the butter to melt. Grate over the hard cheese, and scatter over the chopped nuts and extra pepper to serve.
To store – allow to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container and refrigerating. Do not place in the fridge while still warm, and reheat thoroughly until piping hot to serve. Not recommended for freezing.
Oh, and because I have been INUNDATED with people asking about the peacock wallpaper – it’s here and I ADORE it!
All text copyright Jack Monroe.
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