Pumpkin, Chard and Chestnut Rice

This is definitely my new favorite pumpkin recipe. All of a sudden, I'm a convert - I love rice! Until recently, I was generally uninterested in rice. I would never order a risotto at a restaurant, or rice pilaf as a side. I would eat fried rice, or steamed white rice with Asian food, but really never thought much of it.

Just lately, I've discovered the beauty of cooking rice in the Spanish style, with olive oil and lots of yummy stuff in it. I don't mean the soupy, overly tomatoey "Spanish rice" you get at Mexican restaurants... I mean rich, flavorful rice with interesting things in it.

At this time of year, chestnuts are available at a few places like Whole Foods and Asian grocery stores. If you've never had one, they are wonderful - chewy, with a rich, toasty nutty flavor! If you can't find them, this recipe is worth a try even without them. I might try using hazelnuts instead.

This recipe is adapted from Teresa Barrenechea's Cuisines of Spain. It took me about an hour to make, because you add the stock a little at a time while stirring. It calls for bacon, so if you're vegetarian, just leave it out and I bet it will still taste great (maybe add some leeks or onions instead). The key here is to use reasonably good stock, without too much salt, because it concentrates as it cooks.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 pound winter squash (any type of hard orange-fleshed squash)
1/4 pound bacon or salt pork, diced
6-8 chestnuts
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
6 Swiss chard stems
1 cup cooked chickpeas (you can cook them yourself or buy them in a can)
1 1/2 cups rice
1/3 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

Using a small, sharp paring knife, cut an X through the flat side of each chestnut. In a small saucepan, cover the chestnuts with water and boil 5-8 minutes. Drain them, and while they are still warm, peel away the outer shell and the soft, inner brown membrane to expose the golden, wrinkled nut. Dice them and set them aside.

Peel the squash and cut it into about 3/4 inch cubes - I prefer kabocha or butternut squash because it is much easier to peel than an acorn squash with all those ridges! Remove the stems from the chard leaves and dice them. In the book, it only says "chard stems" so I just cooked up the leaves according to my usual recipe to serve as a side dish.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on medium-high, and add garlic, bacon, squash, chard stems and chestnuts. Stir and cook for about 10 minutes, until the bacon is browned. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the rice, chickpeas and wheat bran or germ. Mix well and cook a few minutes more, until the grains are translucent at the edges. Add the stock, about 1 cup at a time, stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. When all the stock is in, cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and cook about 15 minutes more. The rice will be tender and very moist but not soupy.

Next time I think I'll try it with brown rice! Although it will take longer to cook. I'll let you know how it turns out... here.


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