Sprouts are not simply an ironic, festive friend, they are a Winter staple in our vegetable garden – one of the few things that survives the frost and snow.Walnuts are certainly not just for wassailing! The reason we eat them at Christmas is simple: 3 to 4 months after harvesting, they are dry and crunchy and ready to eat. Some people prefer a “wet walnut”, an acquired taste: the softer, freshly harvested version which has an almost creamy texture, but a lot of work, as you have to peel off the bitter skin. Festive fayre as we know it (turkey and trimmings, fruit and nuts),perhaps originates from the Victorian diet and especially the popularity of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, which conveyed an image of what Christmas food should be to a wider audience. This was perpetuated by the power of cinema, in later years and the popular adaptations of Dickens’ works.In his book, “Hard Times”, walnut ketchup was consumed, a recipe favoured in Mrs Beeton’s “Book of Household Management”. In terms of walnut oil production, we only use dry nuts, there is too much water in a fresh walnut. We start the pressing process in the January following the harvest(we are now starting to press walnuts harvested in Autumn 2013). Dry walnuts can be kept in their shells in a dry, ventilated storage area for up to a year.
Don’t forget that sprouts and walnuts are packed full of antioxidants, so let’s not limit their use to Christmas day.
This brings me to a recipe tried out today. If you find Roquefort a bit too strong, try Gorgonzola, which still has the blue element, but is a lot creamier.
Brussel Sprout, Roquefort and Walnut Risotto
- Chop a medium sized onion and cook, without browning, in a couple of table spoons of olive oil and a small knob of butter.
- When the onions are soft, add enough Arborio rice for the number of people you are cooking for(125g per person).
- Stir and cook on a low heat for a few minutes, until the rice becomes translucent.
- Stir in a glass of white wine. Let it bubble for a few minutes.
- Add enough vegetable stock to cover the rice. Season. Leave to cook down and stir regularly.Add stock gradually as it is absorbed by the rice.
- After 10 minutes, add some shredded sprouts.I used a whole stick for 4 people. Mine were rather small, so I simply halved them, but added them fairly early so they had time to cook.
- When the sprouts are tender, the rice still has some “bite” (don’t wait till it goes mushy!),and a little bit of stock remains in the pan, sprinkle on some Roquefort cheese, (depending on your taste). I used a quarter of a pack for 2 people.Sprinkle on a handful of crushed walnuts, to add some crunch.
- Drizzle with cold-pressed walnut oil.
- Season and serve.