There’s a lot of negativity around when it comes to using up Christmas leftovers. Of course, a simple solution is to cook less and not over cater; there were even reports in the media before Christmas of people being more careful not to buy and cook too much this year – a combination of frugality and environmental concerns. But many cooks find themselves cooking for much larger numbers than they’re used to and it can be difficult to judge the right amount. And not having enough to feed guests is every cook’s worst nightmare.
I was my daughter’s in deepest Worcestershire for Christmas. I say ‘deepest’ as a Londoner as getting to my daughter’s requires driving along unmade-up tracks for the final part of the journey; her and her wife’s home is a lovely 17th century farmhouse that lies – literally – in the middle of fields. It’s surrounded by glorious views and the two have made a beautiful home, grow many of their vegetables and buy much from the local farm shop (where the excellent turkey came from).
On Christmas Day my daughter and my son cooked; they cook together very well and in great harmony and produce a wonderful meal. I’d cooked the Christmas Eve meal (by request, moussaka, which I’d prepared at home and took up in the car all ready to go into the Aga). Grandson Freddie (4¾) and I had made the Christmas pudding a few weeks before (click here) and I took up homemade pastry and jars on mincemeat to make mince pies first thing on Christmas morning – before vacating the kitchen for the serious Christmas Day cooks.
It was a wonderful day and even the weather was kind; the sun shining in a clear blue sky making the views out across the fields even more lovely.
I came home on Boxing Day with the inevitable turkey leftovers, which went straight into a curry for supper that evening (and three portions into the freezer for another day). I also brought home some of the leftover – but still uncooked – Brussels sprouts.
As a family we traditionally make up stockings (in reality, bags) of presents for each other rather than just one present. This will be a mix of larger gifts, to little fun and thoughtful gifts. One of the latter in my ‘stocking’ from my daughter was some black garlic (there are always foodie gifts in every stocking!). This comes from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight who describe it as ‘sweet and syrupy with hints of balsamic vinegar’. It’s white garlic that’s been aged for many weeks.
I decided to put the Brussels sprouts and black garlic into a risotto with some chestnuts. Now that isn’t a combination that comes immediately to mind when thinking risotto. But in fact there’s something very Italian about chestnuts. When I was in Tuscany in the summer with my friend Annette (click here), we walked through chestnut woods close to her house and you’ll find chestnut flour, chestnut pasta and a host of chestnut foods from that part of Italy. In the winter I like to put chestnuts with mushrooms into a risotto (click here). As for the Brussels sprouts, Italians will put any vegetable in season into risotto – think the famous Risotto Primavera, spring risotto.
Of course the greatest point of controversy in this risotto is the Brussels sprout. Is it one of our most hated vegetables? We Brits insist on serving it with our Christmas meal yet many complain (so why do they have them?). As it happens, I like them a lot. But the enjoyment is all in the cooking. Back in my childhood all vegetables were cooked – boiled! – for far too long and an overcooked Brussels sprout is not an attractive or tasty thing. Overcooked they develop an unpleasant sulphur-like smell and don’t taste great. I’m convinced that’s where their bad reputation comes from. But quick cooking and leaving them al dente – with that slight bite still – they are very good indeed (or I think so!).
The thing about leftovers is it’s a chance for the cook to be inventive. And so I put on my creative hat tonight and came up with what turned out to be a very delicious supper.
Brussels sprout, Chestnut & Black Garlic Risotto – Serves One
- a handful of Brussels sprouts (about 12 – enough for one)
- extra virgin olive oil
- a little butter
- 90g (½ Merchant Gourmet pack) precooked whole chestnuts, chopped
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
- ½ cup risotto rice
- 400ml hot stock (I used light homemade chicken stock but use vegetable if you want to be veggie)
- 1 clove black garlic
- a little grated Parmesan to serve
Trim the Brussels sprouts – take off outer leaves and trim stem. Slice fairly thinly. Put into a frying pan with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and a knob of butter. Fry gently, stirring frequently, until starting to brown. Tip in the chopped chestnuts and mix well.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry the shallot in a little olive oil. When softening, add the risotto rice and stir well to coat each grain of rice. Start adding the hot stock ladleful by ladleful, stirring until the stock is almost absorbed, then adding more. When most of the stock is used, add the clove of black garlic.
The black garlic is very soft; it’s like garlic that’s been roasted. Break it up as much as you can to mix into the rice and stock mixture. If you can’t find black garlic, then either just make the dish without it or you could add crushed ordinary garlic, or, better still, some roasted garlic which is nicely sweet and creamy.
When the rice is almost cooked al dente, and the stock mostly absorbed, add the prepared Brussels sprouts and chestnuts. Mix well and allow to cook for just a couple of minutes for the rice to take up the flavours but the sprouts retain their freshness and not overcook.
When the rice is almost dry, pop the lid on the pan and leave to rest for a couple of minutes. At this point traditionally with risotto you put in a knob of butter and some Parmesan and then beat it for a creamy effect after the short rest – the manecato step. However, I didn’t want to make this too cheesy and settled for just grating over a little Parmesan once I’d spooned the risotto into a serving dish, and drizzled over a small amount of olive oil.
It made a different but great-tasting wintry risotto. Brussels spouts and chestnuts are a traditional mix and the black garlic adds a wonderful sweet and earthy taste. I guess you would have to like Brussels sprouts to enjoy this … but I think it also shows a different take on them and how they can be a lot more versatile than we often think.