Rice is not immediately associated with Sicilian cooking, apart from the wonderful arancini, those glorious deep fried rice balls stuffed with meat ragù, peas and cheese.. I was therefore rather surprised when I stumbled across this intriguing sounding rice and chestnut dish from Messina, in Sapori di Sicilia, by Giovanni Coria, It is nothing more than boiled rice dressed with a (dry or fresh) chestnut and olive oil “sauce”, with some pecorino and boiled, chopped finocchietto (wild fennel), the signature herb of Sicilian cooking. It is an unusual and tasty dish and if you like chestnuts you might find it appealing. The pecorino is essential to counterbalance the sweetness of the chestnuts as well as a little lemon zest, my own, non traditional addition. Now that already cooked and peeled chestnuts are easily available, chestnut dishes are much easier and quick to prepare, and the loss of flavour (in comparison to freshly cooked chestnuts or reconstituted dry chestnuts) is not unbearable, I find. Here in London, finocchietto is, of course, impossible to find and I had to make do with a little chopped dill but I found it that also chopped parsley works beautifully.
For two portions:
Take about 200 g of peeled and cooked chestnuts (they generally come vacuum-packed) and simmer in a little salted water for about twenty minutes. Fish them out, mash them more or less coarsely with a fork and keep them aside. Coria talks about turning them into a smooth sauce, but I find that retaining some texture works better.
Boil some rice in boiling salted water, about four fistfuls of risotto rice (in Italian home cooking, we generally “do” two fistfuls per portion, in most rice dishes), giving it a good stir. Meanwhile heat up a glug of olive oil, add the chestnuts and let them absorb some of this oil.Add now a handful of grated pecorino.
When the rice is done, drain it, keeping some of the cooking water, and add it to the chestnuts. Mix to combine, adding a little chopped dill and/or parsley, a little chopped lemon zest and some of the cooking water to loosen up the whole. Serve immediately. with extra pecorino at the table.