Beet Risotto

September 24, 2010

The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
~Tom Robbins

Good food artfully crosses the full ambit of the senses: sights, scents, tastes, textures. Even the sounds of the kinetic kitchen, the quiet clamor of glasses and plates, and the hum and sometimes clamor of table commotion are part of the medium. These symphonic stimuli are perceived, processed and ordered by that vast network of cells, neurons, synapses, receptors and transmitters housed in our gray matter. They are basic impulses which are too often taken for granted. For some though, the eating experience differs…those that must see without sight, listen without hearing. Perception is gleaned from honing other senses to “see” that which cannot be “seen” and “hear” what cannot be “heard.” These so-called heightened senses are used to interpret the environment visually and aurally.

In an admittedly less than fluent fashion, this brings me to the advent of the latest iPhone gadget. The Color Identifier is an app which uses the iPhone camera to scan a subject(s) and then speaks the color. The visually impaired can click an image and then a color identifier made up of 6 hexadecimal digits reports the hues to the user. Sunsets/rises, flora, fauna, landscapes, paintings, autos, homes, clothing, you name it…from the banal to the spectacular. To one who is blessed with sight and is as technologically proficient as Moses, this seems almost surreally miraculous.

The earthiness of this vivid root couples well with the supple elegance of risotto. Frabjous fare.


3 medium red beets, tops and roots trimmed off, and halved tranversely
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6-7 C chicken stock, as needed

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 C arborio rice
3/4 C dry white wine

2 T unsalted butter
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F

Line a large baking dish with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss together the beets, splashes of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place beets in the dish and cover snugly with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake until tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Check throughout the latter part of the cooking process to see if the beets are cooked until tender, but still al dente. They are done when easily penetrated with a fork. Pour excess beet juice into a bowl and reserve. Allow beets to cool uncovered, then peel or slip off skins with paper towels and cut into 1/2″ cubes.

Pour stock into a pan and heat over low heat, keeping at a gentle simmer while you prepare the risotto.

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Add the rice and cook, until fully coated and semi-translucent. Add the wine and continue stirring until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add stock by ladles (about 1/2 cup) until each ladle has been absorbed, stirring gently yet constantly. Let each ladleful of stock be almost absorbed before adding the next, allowing the rice to be covered with a thin coating of stock. There is a rhythm to the process which is not too fast and not too slow. About halfway through the process of ladling the stock into the rice, add the beets and a tablespoon or so of the reserved beet juice.

Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 18 minutes. Then, remove from heat and stir in the butter and parmigiano reggiano and season to taste with salt and pepper. The risotto should be smooth and creamy with the rice still retaining a slight al dente texture.

Divide the risotto among shallow soup bowls, grate some parmigiano reggiano over the top and serve.

Pourboire: Roast more beets than alloted in the recipe and refrigerate for salads, etc. later during the week.