American chestnuts have begun to appear in Washington area farmers markets, which never fails to inspire my search for weeknight meals that incorporate their earthy flavor when roasted. Because that roasting takes time (and involves potential damage to a manicure), I like to keep on hand the roasted, shelled chestnuts that come in foil pouches (not packed in liquid). They are available year-round in Mediterranean markets such as Yekta in Rockville (301-984-1190), at various gourmet markets and in the international aisle of some larger grocery stores. At Trader Joe's, they come vacuum-packed in the produce area's refrigerated case.
They lend texture and meaty flavor to this soup, which reaches almost risotto-like heights because it uses arborio or carnaroli rice.
Serve with a fall salad that contains slices of crisp apple or Asian pear.
- 3 ounces pancetta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 7 ounces foil-packed roasted, shelled chestnuts, such as Galil organic brand (see headnote)
- 2/3 cup arborio or carnaroli (risotto) rice
- 5 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth
- 2/3 cup low-fat or nonfat milk
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the pancetta into 1/2-inch pieces. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Finely chop the onion.
Add the pancetta and onion to the saucepan and stir to coat; cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onion will be softened, and the pancetta pieces will be slightly curled, with some of their fat rendered.
Meanwhile, cut the chestnuts in half, then stir them into the saucepan along with the rice and 2 cups of the broth. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes, stirring often to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until much of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is almost tender.
While the mixture is cooking, heat the milk in a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup on LOW until the milk is just tepid, then stir it into the saucepan along with the remaining tablespoon of butter to form a creamy mixture.
Add the remaining 3 cups of broth. Cook until warmed through (about 5 minutes), using a fork or potato masher to slightly mash some of the chestnuts, if desired. The rice should be tender and the chestnuts softly chewy. Taste, then season lightly with salt and pepper.
Divide among individual bowls; serve hot.
Adapted from "365 Ways to Cook," edited by Eleanor Maxfield (Firefly Books, 2011).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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