In my cooking classes, the students are always asking what recipes can be made in advance to simplify entertaining. This is a terrific do-ahead recipe for the busy holiday host. The chestnuts and the dried cranberries and apricots bring a seasonal sweetness to this savory side dish. I especially like wild rice paired with pork, goose, game birds, and a holiday turkey.
If you prefer not to roast your own chestnuts, you can buy peeled chestnuts in vacuum-sealed packages, cans, or jars at specialty-foods stores. If they are packed in liquid, drain it off. Prepared chestnuts are usually boiled rather than roasted, resulting in some flavor loss. To improve their flavor before using, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in the center of a 350°F (175°C) oven for 12 to 14 minutes.
1-1/4 pounds fresh chestnuts (about 1-1/2 cups peeled)
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
If using unpeeled chestnuts, using a sharp paring knife, score the flat side of each chestnut with a big X, cutting through the outer shell and inner brown skin. Place the chestnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. While the chestnuts are still quite warm but cool enough to handle, peel them with a sharp paring knife, removing both the outer shell and the inner brown skin. Discard any chestnuts that look rotten. Set aside the chestnuts that are hard to peel and rewarm them in a 400°F oven; or place them on a paper towel and rewarm in a microwave for 45 seconds on High, repeating if necessary. Cut the roasted chestnuts in half and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C).
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the rice, chicken stock, water, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 40 minutes. (Not all of the liquid will be absorbed.)
In a small bowl, combine the cranberries and apricots, add hot water to cover, and allow to plump for 20 minutes. Drain and reserve.
In a 12-inch sauté pan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the celery, carrots, and onion and sauté until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, sage, and parsley and sauté for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
When the rice is tender, drain it in a sieve and add it to the sautéed vegetables. Add the reserved chestnuts, cranberries, and apricots and stir to combine. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Use the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to grease an oven-to-table casserole. Spoon the rice into the casserole and cover with aluminum foil. (The wild rice can be made up to this point 1 day in advance, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking, and increase the baking time from 20 minutes to 40 minutes to ensure it is heated through.)
Twenty minutes before serving, bake the rice until heated through, then serve directly from the casserole.
Yield: Serves 8 to 10
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