Food and drink

Chestnust and Pancetta Barley Risotto

For the last few years I’ve taken over making the starter for our Christmas dinner. It helps take some of the pressure of my Mum on the day and gives me a chance to show off a bit. In the past I’ve done stuffed mushrooms, chicken pate and last year I made smoked mackerel pate. This year I’m going to make this chestnut and pancetta barley risotto.

The last time I made a barley risotto didn’t turn out very well. But this one is a much better conceived idea. I tend to think the best risottos are quite simple. Only use two or three main ingredients and let the rich and stock do the bulk of the work. As this is for Christmas I really wanted to use chestnuts (also I really like chestnuts) which meant a natural second flavour to throw in was bacon – or pancetta in this instance.

If anything barley risotto is even easier than normal risotto. For the most part you just pour in the stock and leave it to get on with cooking. There’s no need to constantly stir it like you would with rice. Don’t bother buying whole chestnuts and cooking them yourselves. It’s really not worth the hassle. Trust me, all you’ll do is spend an hour trying to get the damn things peeled cleanly and curse the day you ever decided to buy whole chestnuts. It’s a much better idea to buy the tinned or vacuum packed ones. They keep forever and are great to have on hand to throw into a salad, some stuffing for a roast or a risotto! The only trouble with them is once the can is open I find that not as many make it into the risotto as I originally intended. They always seem to end up in my mouth instead.

Serves 2

150g Pearl Barley
1 pack cooked and peeled chesnuts
Pancetta, cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary
A large knob of butter
1 litre vegetable stock

Gently fry the onions with some olive oil in a medium or large pan until it’s soft and translucent.
Scoop out the onions and set to one side.
Turn up the heat and fry the pancetta until it’s crisp.
Add the onions back into the pan along with the barley and garlic.
Pour in half the stock and add the rosemary.
Cover and simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until the stock is almost completely soaked up by the barley.
Crumble in the chestnuts, some thyme and a little more stock.
Keep topping up with more stock and stirring occasionally until the barley is tender.
Grate in some parmesan add the butter, season and stir.
Finish with some chopped parsley and serve.

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