Over the winter months I have eaten every French walnut recipe known to man, from a Roquefort and walnut salad to gateau aux noix, healthy to unhealthy and everything in between. The time has come for me to look further afield in my quest to finish the walnuts, and Italy is the inspiration for tonight's meal. Just don't tell the neighbours...
Risotto is a classic Italian dish, and one that's perfect for winter. The combination of soothing carbohydrates and creamy dairy is hard to beat, and the constant stirring and adding of liquids is little more than an excuse to stay warm thanks to the heat of the stove. I've assuaged my French guilt by using local ingredients in this Italian recipe - you may prefer to change the Roquefort for Stilton, Gorgonzola, or Dolcelatte; they all work well.
For the caramelized endive:
4 large endives (also known as chicory)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp granulated sugar (demerera is a nice alternative)
1 tsp ground nutmeg
120ml chicken or vegetable stock
For the walnut stock (optional):
100g shelled walnut halves
500ml vegetable stock
For the risotto:
250g risotto rice
470 ml white wine (optional, but this is a good way to finish a bottle; if you don't use the wine you will need to increase the amount of stock)
500ml stock (walnut, chicken, or vegetable - see note)
4 large shallots, finely chopped (or 1 small onion if you prefer)
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
50g crumbled Roquefort (or your preferred blue cheese)
60g shelled walnuts
[Note: Before starting this recipe, soak 100g of the walnuts overnight in water. For an easier version of the recipe, skip step 1 entirely, and replace the walnut stock with 500ml chicken or vegetable stock. If you go down this route, you'll only need 60g shelled walnuts.]
1. Strain the soaked walnuts, then put them in a pan with 300ml water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Strain again, then put them back in the pan with 500ml vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Pour the walnut and stock mixture into a blender and whizz till smooth. Return the walnut stock to the pan and set aside.
2. Put 60g of shelled walnuts onto a baking tray in a low oven and cook for 10 minutes, shaking after 5 minutes to ensure even toasting. You could also do this in a dry frying pan over a low heat, shaking more often. When toasted, put the walnuts to one side until you're ready to serve.
3. Heat your stock to a gentle simmer.
4. In a separate saucepan over a medium heat, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, stirring often so they don't burn.
5. Add rice, making sure that every grain is coated with the butter/oil mix. When the edges of the grains become translucent, it is time to start adding the wine. Add the wine in three parts, waiting between each addition for the liquid to be absorbed. 6. Stir gently, to stop the rice sticking to the pan. If you are not using wine, begin adding stock at this stage.
7. With the saucepan kept at a steady simmer, add the warm stock a ladle at a time, waiting for the stock to be absorbed between each addition. Stir gently. Keep adding the stock in this fashion until the pan is empty. This should take around 20 minutes, but if you prefer your rice with less 'bite', it could take up to 30. Keep tasting until you have the consistency you want.
8. When you are half-way through cooking the risotto (when the first ladle of stock has been absorbed if you are following the wine method), quarter the endives and discard the cores. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and sear the endives on all sides. They should be light brown in colour. When seared, sprinkle the endives with the sugar and ground nutmeg, and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden and caramelized. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the stock and cover the pan. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, then remove from the heat and keep warm. As your risotto should be nearly ready by this point, keeping the lid on should be enough to retain the heat.
9. When the risotto has reached your preferred consistency and all the stock has been absorbed, stir in the Roquefort and toasted walnuts. If you like a creamy risotto, add more butter at this point - two or three teaspoons should do the trick. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir again.
To serve, plate the risotto and top each serving with the caramelized endive. Freshly shaved Parmesan or Grana Padano is an optional extra.
Variation: Keep the carnivores in your life happy by stirring in lardons or cubetti di pancetta before serving. Stirring often, fry 300g in a dry frying pan until they have reached the desired level of crispiness. They will cook in their own fat, and you will probably want to drain them on paper towel before adding them to the risotto.
Recipe adapted from a range of sources.