Sunday, October 28, 2007


Beetroot Risotto

For the longest time I had an aversion to beetroot (beets). My knowledge extended to canned, pickled fuschia slices in vinegar. They are ubiquitous in this form in New Zealand and Australia, where they are put into Summer salads and hamburgers. The stench from the cans still prompt a gagging response that used to urge me towards the nearest chunder vessel. Of course, my parents have always thought they were lovely, as many people do. And why wouldn't they? After all, they are products of housewives cooking post-WWII, which brought the "convenience" of mass preparation and production.

Though wars continue to be fought at different levels of intensity, and some more systemic than others, there is no need in New Zealand to still be paying homage to the canned, pickled beetroot. One can pickle them at home and preserve them in a manner that would not result in a malty waft whenever accessed. In a world that is trying to remember fresh fruit and vegetables, I have been largely re-educated on the beauty of the sweet, earthy beetroot.

One of my favourite applications of beetroot is in salad. It is roasted, peeled and grated, and finally served with grated apple and horseradish. There is an affinity between beetroot and horseradish, for they are both earthy, but the beetroot is sweet and the horseradish is hot/peppery. I first had beetroot risotto at Celestino's, an Italian restaurant in Pasadena, where the food is fresh, including the pasta, and the service is attentive and cheerful. I enjoy the savoury elements of their soffrito, which is given a mild zing with the addition of the beetroot. I have wolfed it down several times, at different restaurants, actually, and none has been better than the one at Celestino's, where the earthiness is never lost.

Because of their longevity when stored correctly, beetroot, like many root vegetables and some fruit (apples, particularly), give the impression of being harvested year-round. Their seasons are typically Autumn-Winter, making them the perfect, bright-coloured foil to dim, grey skies. Beetroot can be kept in the fridge or in a dark space, like a lined drawer designated for fruit and vegetables, as my angelheart Eric and I did when we lived together in Los Angeles. Choose beetroot that is hard and that has bright leaves. Tender, young leaves can be tossed into a salad; large leaves can be sauteed and served as a vegetable side.

Finally I have made beetroot risotto at home. My angelheart Eric is still in Southern California, where it is now Autumn. Missing him and our nights out on the town, I have turned to the beetroot, which, as noted above, I can get year-round. This risotto may not be as perfect as Celestino's, but memories were triggered when I ate it, which is what I needed. More than anything Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow seeks to comfort.

This recipe serves two for primi. There are two main sets of ingredients and methods: one for pickling the beetroot, and another for the preparation of the risotto. Keep hot water on the side in case you need more liquid for the risotto.

Beetroot Risotto
(Closely following Diane Forley and Catherine Young's The Anatomy of a Dish)

For the pickled beetroot:

2 medium beetroot
1/3 cup dry red wine
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 medium onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 clove
1/5 cup water

1) Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F.
2) Clean the beetroot and lop the tops off. Leave the roots intact, otherwise the beets will bleed.
3) Wrap beetroot individually in foil.
4) Roast for 50 minutes to one hour until beets are easily pierced with a fork.
5) Once cooled, peel, remove the roots, and dice.
6) In a saucepan, place the diced beets and the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir.
7) Reduce to low and cook until beetroot is very tender, approximately 15 minutes.
8) Strain beets. Reserve the liquid and beets separately. Discard the rest.

For the risotto:

1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon thyme
Kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup vermouth (or dry white wine)
2/3 cup arborio rice
1 1/3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon butter, unsalted
1/3 cup of liquid from pickled beets
Beets, as roasted, diced and pickled above

1) Heat olive oil in a large, deep pan/skillet over medium to low heat.
2) Add onion, thyme and season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until the vegetables begin to soften.
3) Add lemon juice and vermouth. Cook, stirring occasionally until the pan is almost dry and the vegetables are tender.
4) Add rice, season with more salt and pepper. Stir to coat rice with oil.
5) Add 1/3 cup chicken stock and simmer, stirring often with a wooden spoon.
6) When most of the liquid has been absorbed, add another 1/3 cup chicken stock. Stir until it looks like it is going to stick to the pan. Keen adding chicken stock by 1/3 cup and stir. If you run out of chicken stock and the rice is not yet tender, this is when you need to start using the hot water.
7) Once almost tender, add 1/3 cup of liquid from pickled beets. Stir in and keep stirring until the liquid looks slightly syrupy.
8) Ideally, you want the rice to still have a bite but not hard as a ball in the centre. It should yield easily when you chomp.
9) Stir in the butter and remove from the heat.
10) Gently stir in as many of the diced, pickled beets as you desire and serve immediately.

The colour is a bit of a shock, but it is au naturel and a large part of the charm of beetroot. This intense yet cheerful purply-crimson is enough to brighten any dreary day.

The creaminess of the risotto is not too rich as it is buoyed by the mildly spiced beetroot. The butter adds further richness without being too much. You may want to add a tangy or nutty cheese to add further dimension, but it is perfectly good as it is.

This post is being submitted to the glowing and generous Pille of Nami-Nami, who is hosting the 106th edition of Kalyn's Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging.

Post script Please visit the round-up for this event, as posted on the glowing and generous Pille's food blog, Nami-Nami.

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Hi Shaun, that does look very comforting. I have many memories connected to food, especially of my childhood. I hope that you will be with your angelheart soon.

Thanks for the recipe. I've been wanting to make beetroot risotto for the longest time but could not settle on a recipe. Using home-made pickled beetroot sounds wonderful.
This sounds so good, that I will probably change my mind about beets. I can them it in a chocolate cake, perhaps also visible in a risotto.
Shaun - thank you for this WHB entry! You may have noticed that I cook with beetroot quite a lot - I've even made a beetroot risoto before - so this recipe is very close to my heart:) Hope to try it a.s.a.p. And the picture is beautiful - the light is really lovely!
Really beautiful photos, and the risotto sounds wonderful.
Nora B. ~ This pickling process is very quick and suffuses the beetroot with lovely spicy touches. This is a simple dish to make, if only a little time consuming because there are three main steps (roasting the beetroot, making the pickled beetroot, and making the risotto). But the flavours are so lovely the final result is nice to behold.

I hope your research is coming along. Some days up, some days down. Just do the most you can every day.

Ostwestwind ~ Once you've had beetroot directly prepared from the root vegetable and not bought out of a can, I don't see anyone could not like beetroot. But just because I am a convert, doesn't mean everyone else will become one. I have read a few recipes in which beetroot has been used in desserts and cakes.

Pille ~ You know, I was supposed to consult your blog before I started my risotto because I had seen your recipe before (I mentally bookmarked it). When deciding whether to add cheese or not, I forgot to go back to your fabulous blog to find out what you did. For any future beetroot venture, your blog will be the first port of call. This was incredibly tasty, each grain of rice tasted of beetroot.

Kalyn ~ Thank you so much for the kind comment. I didn't take many photos because I couldn't wait to eat, so I was glad a couple worked out!
Shaun, I well know the aversion to beets and still suffer from it if they are prepared w/ sugar. (I can't even look at a jar of "Harvard Beets" w/out getting queasy.) Easy enough for me to amend this recipe with the omission of that 1/4 cup, a shadow, really.

What a gorgeous magenta this dish is. And thanks for the tip on storing produce in a lined drawer. Does this work for any fruit/veggie? My fridge crisper is often overcrowded and threatening to crack if I add just one more scallion.
hi Shaun, I would like to make this over the weekend. Can I use regular white vinegar? I also have verijus.

Thanks for your advice. Research is moving along. It's just that I have competing commitments and that stresses me out trying to fit everything in.
That is such a gorgeous color!... and the risotto looks lovely.
I'll definitely make this once my beets come to maturity in the garden. I can't wait. I'm a beet-lover, and like them in just about any preparation. Thanks for the great suggestion.
Susan, lovie ~ I store root vegetables in a lined drawer, as well as brown paper bags of funghi and tomatoes (while ripening). I think apples are best left in the fridge, as are berries and eggplant. Bananas can rest on a counter, best not next to other ripening produce (like avocados and pears, unless of course you want to hurry along their ripening process). Pomegranates, too, can be put in the drawer, but if you need them to stay fresh longer, they are best kept in the fridge.

This is all based on experience, you understand. I should probably consult a reference to confirm all of the above.

Nora B. ~ All you want is the acidity, but nothing too sharp, which is why all the acidic lquid is not wholly comprised of lemon juice. Either white wine vinegar or verjus is a good replacement for vermouth.

Let me know how your risotto turns out!

TBC ~ Welcome! Yes, the colour, though in-your-face, is beautiful and uplifting. It tasted fantastic.

Christina ~ I recommend that you stop by Pille's blog, Nami-Nami, for she has loads of recipes for beets.

As a beet-lover, I am nudging you to try this when your beets are ready. It's worth it, and risotto will be welcome come Winter, I'm sure.
Hi Shaun, sorry to bug you again. I should have been clearer with my question. I meant for the pickling - I don't have red wine vinegar. What other substitutes can I use? I have all the other ingredients. Thank you!
Nora B. - I would recommend using either more red wine since you have that to hand (as opposed to vinegar, then) or balsamic vinegar. You could also try raspberry vinegar, if you have that. I really hope this helps. If not, please e-mail me.
Shaun, the risotto looks gorgeous! I wish I were more in the habit of taking pictures when I cooked so that I could show off as well :-)

the zen kitchen
Wowee! I loove that gorgeous colour!! This has long been on my list to try, I must I really must, and soon!
Yes, I have all that - thanks again Shaun!
Dominic ~ The colour of beets have always intrigued. They are such a stunning purply-pink; it's hard not to be impressed by the colour. But in the vegetable world, I do find its earthy sweetness unparalleled.

Kelly-Jane ~ At least this is a dish that has substance as well as looks. It's not only fun to serve but nutritious, too.

Nora B. ~ I hope you enjoy the risotto. It is a breeze to make, though there are a couple of steps. Let me know how it turns out.
Hi Shaun, didn't get round to making this as I planned as my partner had other plans (i.e. his wants steak today and we had Vietnamese last night). But I am a very determined cook, so I will get to satisfy my craving soon enough.

Hope you are having a good weekend.





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