A few weeks ago, as the 6 o’clock hour approached I faced the familiar issue of not having any semblance of a dinner plan. I began mentally going through the items in our refrigerator – trying to find inspiration from a potential mishmash of leftovers or vegetables yet to be used. I suddenly remembered a bunch of deep red beets, carefully washed and stemmed after a summer farmer’s market visit and yet to be consumed.
While there are endless possibilities of how I could have prepared the ruby root vegetables for our dinner, an overwhelming desire for something creamy and comforting snuck into my plans for the beets. Risotto. Best of all, everything I needed to create this dish was already stocked in our tiny kitchen and make-shift pantry. No after-work grocery store trip required.
It seems like such a silly decision now – planning to make red beet risotto for dinner while comfortably sitting in my air-conditioned office. The summer heat and fact that our kitchen is never actually cooled by the air conditioning did not enter into my thought process. It wasn’t until after I had slowly melted the butter, sautéed the onions and drenched the translucent onion strands in white wine when I realized I had 25 minutes of continual stirring staring right in my face. Continually stirring with no air flow on a ninety degree night in a pre-war apartment where the summer humidity sits heavy in the old, cement walls.
But still – despite the heat and sweating and cursing my boneheaded oversight – this is one of my new favorite recipes. The beets not only lend a beautiful red hue, but also offer a lighter, summery taste to an otherwise heavy dish.
RED BEET RISOTTO
adapted from The New York Times
makes 4 servings
1 bunch (about 3/4 pound) red beets
6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
½ cup dry white wine
Fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the greens away from the beets. Scrub the beets and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Place in the oven and roast for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven when they are easily penetrated with the tip of the knife; set aside to cool. Cut away the ends, remove the skins, and dice into ¼-inch pieces.
Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Season well and turn the heat to low.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large nonstick frying pan or wide, heavy saucepan and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes, and add the rice and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the grains of rice are separate and beginning to crackle, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the wine and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. The wine should bubble, but not too quickly. You want some of the flavor to cook into the rice before it evaporates. When the wine has just about evaporated, stir in a ladleful (about ½ cup) of the simmering stock, enough to just cover the rice. The stock should bubble slowly. Cook, stirring often, until it is just about absorbed. Add another ladleful of the stock and continue to cook in this fashion, not too fast and not too slowly, stirring often and adding more stock when the rice is almost dry, for 10 minutes.
Stir in the diced beets and continue adding more stock, enough to barely cover the rice, and stirring often, for another 10 to 15 minutes. Taste a bit of the rice. Is it cooked through? It should taste chewy but not hard in the middle. If it is still hard in the middle, you need to continue adding stock and stirring for another 5 minutes or so. Now is the time to ascertain if there is enough salt. Add if necessary.
When the rice is cooked through, add a generous amount of freshly ground pepper, and stir in another half cup of stock, the butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Remove from the heat. The rice should be creamy; if it isn’t, add a little more stock. Stir once, taste and adjust seasonings. Plate the risotto and sprinkle with a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano, fleur de sel, and freshly ground black pepper.