This year has been a fantastic one for a bountiful harvest of berries and nuts from Nature.  The sweet chestnuts are falling from the trees and even the squirrels can’t hide them all!  So help yourselves to a few and make this satisfying dish (vacuum packed or frozen chestnuts available in supermarkets).

I have adapted a recipe I found on www.bbcgoodfood for a squash and chestnut barley risotto.

You can use either pearl barley or whole spelt but the barley will take longer to cook.  You can shorten the cooking time for barley by soaking it overnight and then rinse and drain before using.  Either grain should be cooked through – ie no ‘white’ core in the centre but still retaining a little bite to it.


  • 1 medium butternut squash or other orange fleshed variety peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
  • 1 ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 100g cooked chestnuts, halved
  • ½ small pack sage leaves picked
  • 1 small pack of bacon lardons
  • 2 banana shallots , finely chopped (or 1 medium white onion)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 200g pearl barley or whole spelt
  • 850ml stock either vegetable or chicken that has been heated in a pan so it is hot.
  • Parmesan to serve


  • Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Toss the squash with 1⁄2 tbsp of oil, chilli flakes and salt and pepper on a large roasting tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes until softened and beginning to roast around the edges.   Add the chestnuts and lardons and mix carefully. Return to the oven for approx. 10-15 mins until the lardons are colouring and crispy.  Meanwhile fry the sage leaves until crisp in a little olive oil and then drain on kitchen towel.  Remove squash from the oven and set aside.
  • Heat the remaining oil in a sauté pan over a low heat. Add the shallots and cook for 8 mins until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for 1 min. Tip in the pearl barley or spelt, swirl around in the pan and then pour in a ladle of the stock.
  • Start by add a ladleful of stock at a time, carefully stirring over a medium heat until nearly all the liquid is absorbed by the grain before adding the next ladle.  This will take about 20-30 mins. You will need to keep tasting to ensure the grains are cooked to your liking.
  • When it is cooked, fold in the roasted ingredients, put a lid on the pan and allow to warm through for a couple of minutes. Season with rock salt and ground black pepper to taste.  Serve with Parmesan.

Variations: use sweet potatoes instead of the squash – 2 large ones peeled and roasted in the same way.

For vegetarians and vegans, leave out the lardons and use veg stock and sprinkle with yeast flakes instead of the parmesan.

To make it a real ‘fruits of the forest’ meal, reduce the amount of squash/sweet potato and add ½ pack of chopped exotic mushrooms. These do not need to be roasted but add about halfway through the cooking time so they incorporate the flavour.

Sometimes, I will soak a couple of tablespoons of dried wild porcini mushrooms for about half an hour and add the soaking water to the stock which gives a beautiful rich flavour.  Add the soaked mushrooms as you would fresh ones.

Photo by Valeriia Miller from Pexels