Walnut & stilton orzotto with roasted squash & Port sauce

MasterChef finalist, Alex Rushmer, shows us how to create a show-stopping vegetarian starter for the festive season

  • Prep:40 mins
    Cook:2 hrs
    Plus overnight soaking
  • Serves 6
  • A challenge

Nutrition per serving

  • kcal 511
  • fat 34g
  • saturates 12g
  • carbs 33g
  • sugars 15g
  • fibre 3g
  • protein 10g
  • salt 0.64g


  • 100g walnut halves
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp sunflower oil
  • 25g unsalted butter, plus a knob extra
  • 1½ banana shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 100g pearl barley
  • 125ml Champagne
  • 85g Stilton or vegetarian alternative, cubed, plus extra to serve
  • ½ banana shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 4 juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • 5cm cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 star anise
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 black or green cardamom pod
  • pinch grated nutmeg
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • 300ml tawny port
  • 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 25g butter
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1cm dice
  • 25g walnut halves
  • pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp light muscovado sugar
  • small watercress leaves, to serve


  1. Soak the 100g walnuts in water overnight. Strain through a sieve, put in a pan and cover with 300ml water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 mins. Strain again, return to the pan with the stock and bring to the boil. Pour into a blender, blend on medium for 5 mins, then strain back into the pan. Set aside until step 4.

  2. Make the sauce: soften the shallot in the oil over a gentle heat for 10 mins. Stir in the spices and stock, increase the heat and reduce by three-quarters. Pour in the Port and gently simmer for 20 mins. Strain into a clean pan and reduce over a high heat until thickened, about 10 mins. Set aside. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.

  3. For the squash, heat the butter in an ovenproof pan. Fry the squash for 3-4 mins, then stir in the walnuts with the cinnamon, sugar and a pinch of salt. Roast for 15-20 mins or until tender. Keep warm.

  4. Meanwhile, make the orzotto. Warm the walnut stock. Heat the oil and 25g butter in a large, deep pan, add the shallots and soften for 10 mins, but don’t colour. Stir in the garlic and cook 3-4 mins more. Remove from the pan, set aside, then wipe the pan clean. Increase the heat, tip in the barley and toast for 2-3 mins, keeping it moving so it doesn’t burn. Quickly stir the shallots and garlic back into the pan with the barley, then pour in the Champagne. Stir well and add a ladleful of warm walnut stock. Lower the heat a little and keep adding stock when the orzotto looks ‘thirsty’, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the pan. (You’ll need about 500ml stock in total. Make up the amount with vegetable stock if necessary.) Cook until the barley is tender – 35-40 mins (you have a lot more grace with this than with rice, as it retains its bite for longer).

  5. When cooked, add another half ladle of stock (to stop the orzotto from thickening as it cools), then stir in the Stilton and a knob of butter. Stir and season, remembering Stilton can be very salty.

  6. To serve, reheat the sauce, adding a little more Port if it is too thick, then stir in the redcurrant jelly until dissolved and finish with the butter. Spoon some sauce over each plate and top with a few spoonfuls of orzotto. Garnish with the roasted squash and walnut halves, a few small pieces of Stilton and leaves.

Suggested recipes from this collection...