Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Roasted Beet Risotto

As I’ve mentioned before, February 14th is a big day in our house. Not so much because it’s Valentine’s Day, though. Stan is firmly of the “it’s a Hallmark holiday designed to make people spend money” camp. I, on the other hand, love Valentine’s Day despite its pervasive commercialism. I like the hearts, and the pink and red, and the candy and flowers, and all other manner of girlish whimsy.

But that’s not the point. February 14th is a big day in our house because it’s the anniversary of our first date. Six years ago, we went out on our first official date, and it just so happened to be on Valentine’s Day. So every Valentine’s Day since then has had special meaning. This year, however, was extra special because it was our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple.

Every year, Stan plans a super secret Valentine’s date for us. It’s the one night a year where I know nothing about the plan. I just know it will involve dinner, and I should look spiffy. In keeping with tradition, Stan surprised me with a fabulous dinner at a restaurant I have wanted to try for months. (And these flowers!) We went out on Saturday, the night before Valentine’s Day, so that left me to figure out something special for us to do on Sunday, our “real” big day.

Since Stan had to spend the whole day at school and the office, I wanted him to come home to a special dinner. I kind of wanted it to look Valentine’s-y too. Enter the humble beet. An often-maligned root vegetable, beets have an undeserved bad rep. They are sweet and earthy and pair well with a number of foods. Even better for my purposes, they are a gorgeous, deep pinkish-red color that could not be more perfect for a Valentine’s Day recipe.

I decided to take my beets and incorporate them into a risotto. Creamy and hearty, the risotto paired very well with the savory-sweet chunks of vibrantly hued beets. I served the risotto with homemade rosemary foccacia, an Arugula salad with shaved Parmesan, and a light pear ginger crisp (recipe to come later this week). All in all, it was a memorable, delicious meal, perfect for our first married Valentine’s Day.

Roasted Beet Risotto

3 medium beets, washed with greens removed
1 T. olive oil
2 T. butter, divided
1/2 cup minced shallot (you can also use onion)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
3/4 dry white wine
7-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or finely shredded (plus extra for garnish)
2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley (plus extra for garnish)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For Roasted Beets:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wrap each beet in aluminum foil, and place on a baking sheet.

Roast until a knife slides easily through the flesh of the beets. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the size of your beets. To test for doneness, you can pierce the flesh right through the foil. If they need more time, simply put them back in the oven. (If your beets are not the same size, be sure to remove the smaller ones as they finish cooking.)

When cooked, remove the foil from the beets and set them aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, rub the beets gently to remove their skins. If you have trouble, you can use a paring knife or a vegetable peeler. (Beet juice will dye anything it comes in contact with – including your hands. If you have kitchen gloves, now is the time to use them.)

Chop the beets into 1/2-inch cubes, and set aside until ready to use. (You can prepare the roasted beets a couple of days ahead of time, if desired.)

For Risotto:
In a medium pot, bring chicken stock to a gentle simmer. (If it comes to a boil, lower the heat. You want the stock to be hot but not boiling.)

In a large pot or saucepan, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the Arborio rice, and stir to combine, making sure to evenly coat the grains of rice. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the rice becomes somewhat translucent and is lightly toasted.

Add the wine, and stir occasionally until it is completely absorbed.

Add about 1/2 cup of hot stock, and stir occasionally until it is almost completely absorbed. (I use my large soup ladle for this.)  Continue adding stock in small increments, allowing it to become almost completely absorbed before adding more. This will cause the starches in the rice to come out, making your risotto creamy. Stir occasionally.

After about 10 minutes (after you’ve used up about half of your stock), stir in the diced, roasted beets. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Continue slowly adding stock until the rice is tender but still a little toothsome, about 10 more minutes. (It should not be crunchy, nor should it be mushy.) The whole process typically takes between 20 and 25 minutes.

When the rice reaches the right consistency, stir in the Parmesan cheese, parsley, and remaining tablespoon of butter. Add additional salt and pepper if desired.

Serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan cheese shavings and chopped parsley.

Serves 4 as a main course, 6 to 8 as a first course

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