We see a lot of potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, and beets on our dinner plates between October and March. If you live in our part of the world and try to eat what's seasonally available, these root vegetables form a big part of your diet in the fall and winter months. The glory of spring's tender asparagus spears and fresh spinach become a fond memory. Vine ripened tomatoes are but a distant dream.
Although they are tasty in their own way, it's easy to tire of the more limited selection of produce available during the winter months. It can feel like you are faced with an endless repetition of the same few dishes, all nutritious but - after their twenty-seventh appearance on your plate - all spectacularly boring.
I work hard to avoid this.
I'm always on the lookout for new ways to serve root vegetables, so when a friend served us beet risotto at dinner one evening, it knocked my socks off. I mean, really, the colour alone was enough to add excitement to the plate!
I didn't get a recipe from my friend that evening but, after some tinkering around, I've come up with my own beet risotto, flavoured with the zest and juice of an orange. The orange adds a little bit acidity, offsetting the earthiness of the beets beautifully.
To make beet risotto, you'll need:
- 2 medium sized beets
- 1 small-ish onion about 2 inches in diameter, cut in a fine dice
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil (I used extra virgin because it's what I keep on hand)
- 1 cup arborio rice
- The zest and juice of a medium sized navel orange
- About 4 cups of stock (I used store bought this time but prefer homemade)
Put the stock in a saucepan and heat it to a low simmer.
While the stock is heating, prepare the beets. Remove the stem and root ends, peel them and then grate them on the fine side of a box grater, or with fine shredding disk in your food processor.
(Peeling and shredding beets is a messy business. The beet juice will stain your skin. I keep a box of disposable plastic gloves in the cupboard for chores like this one. Using them keeps my hands presentable for work.)
Once the beets are ready and the stock heated, take out a medium sized, heavy bottomed saucepan in which to prepare your risotto.
Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to your risotto pot and heat the oil over medium-high heat.
When the oil is hot, add in the chopped onion and the rice. Sauté them, stirring constantly, until the onion softens, is transluscent, and has begun to take on just the tiniest bit of colour around the edges.
The rice should take up some of the oil during this process. The grains will become translucent around the edges but remain white in the center.
Add in the beets, orange zest, and orange juice, stirring until the ingredients are well combined.
Begin to add in the stock, a ladle-full at a time. Stir the rice and stock mixture until most of the stock has been absorbed into the rice before adding more liquid. The pan should be dry enough before each addition of stock that the liquid boils up with a rushing sound when you ladle it into the rice.
When you are nearing the end of your stock, taste the rice. You are hoping to achieve a slightly al dente texture that still has some tooth to it but is not hard or chewy. If it seems the rice needs more moisture to achieve that texture, put on the kettle and boil some water. Add it to the mixture just as you've done with the stock; adding, stirring, and tasting until you achieve the texture you're seeking.
You'll know by both appearance and texture when your risotto is ready to serve. The rice will be al dente, the shredded beet and onion will be so soft that they almost disappear into the dish, and the risotto will be suspended in a creamy sauce.
Risotto should be loose enough to move a bit on the plate if you tilt it from side to side, and it should be served immediately because it sets up very quickly. In the time it took me to take this picture, my dish had set up more than I would have liked. Even so, it tasted wonderful.
I'm so glad my friend introduced me to beet risotto. It brought some welcome variety to our winter-time table and tastes so good that even my fella - who has been known to sigh heavily before saying "Beets again?" - looks forward to having it for dinner. I hope you'll give it a try too.