Last night my friend Julie took me to Caffe Mingo for a belated birthday dinner. Julie doesn’t know this, but I often refer to her to my friends back home as my only friend in the Portland. Not totally true. I actually have a lot of friends here in Portland. OK. A fair amount. I have a LOT of friends back home and quite a few scattered around the country. But Julie is my closest girl friend here in Portland and the only friend I hang out with on a regular basis.
Our eyes grew wide as we tried to narrow down what we wanted to eat for dinner. Julie was probably a bit surprised when while scouring the menu I suggested we try the roasted beet risotto. Though she is aware that I’ve begun eating more vegetables recently, I don’t think she’s ever heard me suggest eating beets or a vegetable-based dish of any kind.
With the help of the server, we settled on half orders of an artichoke appetizer, pesto linguine and roasted beet risotto to start and a Margherita pizza for the main course. Even though we got half orders of the first three dishes, we were monstrously full by the time the pizza arrived and could only choke down one piece of pizza apiece.
She was the first one to dig into the risotto when it arrived at the table, and she immediately declared the dish delicious. I have to admit I was slightly skeptical that it would be completely delicious. I’m new to eating beets and I think the pink coloring threw me off. But as soon as I dug in, I concurred with Julie: delicious.
Before I went to bed last night I knew I wanted to try to recreate the dish in my kitchen. And what better time to do so than immediately? I am an instant gratification foodie. I see delicious food and must have it immediately.
This morning when I was buying the beets at New Seasons, the store manager asked me what I was making. When I told him beet risotto, he said he’s never had a flavored risotto he didn’t like. I tend to agree. I think you could make almost any flavor of risotto, and it would turn out delicious. Beets prove that theory!
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 c. dry arborio rice
- ⅓ c. dry white or red wine (sherry cooking wine works well, too)
- 4 c. chicken or vegetable stock, broth is a fine substitute
- ½ to 1 c. half-and-half
- 2 medium beets
- 2 T. Thyme, chopped
- 1 T. poppy seeds
- ½ to 1 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
- ½ c. chopped feta (optional)
- salt to taste, if necessary
- Preheat your oven to 350 F and scrub your beets clean but leave the skins on and trim away the leafy greens if there are any. Place the beets in a loaf pan or any baking pan and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour in about ½ inch of sherry or apple cider vinegar. Cover with aluminum foil and roast in the oven for about an hour and half or until easily poked with a fork. Allow to cool enough to handle without burning yourself. Wearing gloves, take a paper towel and rub away the skins. Or don’t wear gloves and sport magenta-colored hands and fingers. Cut the beets into bite-sized pieces. (Note: Start roasting the beets about 2 hours before you intend to start the risotto so they can cook and cool ahead of time.)
- In a small saucepan bring your stock to a simmer and leave over low heat. Puree about ½ the amount of cut beets with some cream or half-and-half. Use enough liquid to get a thick puree.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about a minute. Toss in the shallots and garlic and stir to avoid browning. After about 10 to 15 seconds or until the shallot turn translucent, add the rice and stir until you see white in the centers of the rice. Add the white wine and stir until fully absorbed.
- Ladle in about ½ cup of the broth and stir constantly until absorbed. This should be done over medium low heat. Then add another ladle-full and continue stirring until absorbed. Be sure to start tasting about halfway through cooking so you can gauge how much longer it needs to cook. Repeat this over the next 20 to 25 minutes until the rice is almost cooked al dente.
- Stir in the beets, thyme, poppy seeds and beet puree and finish cooking. The dish should have a thick, porridge-like consistency.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the romano cheese. Add additional cream if you feel the dish needs more creaminess or if it seems like it’s starting to dry out.
- Add salt to taste. I found I didn’t need any salt. Spoon into bowls, top with additional shredded romano or feta and garnish with thyme sprigs. Serve immediately.
Cooking risotto always ends up to be an interesting and somewhat experimental kitchen experience. The recipe I’ve listed above is what I ended up making up as I went along. It’s pretty far from the recipe I started following.
Most recipes do not call for a beet puree. None of the ones I saw do, anyway. But I seemed to have an enormous amount of roasted beets (my beets must have been extra-large), and I didn’t want to include all of them in the dish. On top of that, I wanted a rich beet color. Mine looked a bit albino once I added the beets and I wad disappointed by that. I figured a beet puree would help boost the color. I was right. It did!
I also seemed to run out of chicken stock and improvised by adding some cream, which is fine. I had planned on adding cream to the dish to make it extra creamy anyway. The recipe I followed advised you wouldn’t need much salt. It’s my feeling that beets lend a sweet taste to the dish. The first time I made this I ended up adding at least a teaspoon of salt – possibly more. The second time I made it I didn’t need any salt at all.
This recipe yields about four to six servings, depending on how big or small you make the portions. I will be eating this for lunch all week. And I can’t wait!