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Beet Risotto

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love making risotto and to me, it's something I often resort to when I am out of food, have no ideas and if dinner isn't served within the hour, I am going to have children's services knocking at my door. I know that to some people it is an intimidating, special occasion dish but to me, it's cooking for dummies.

At it's most desperate - I mean simple, it's just a cup or so of arborio rice, whatever vegetable I find lying at the bottom of the crisper, scrape the ice off of a handful of frozen shrimp or the last dregs from the bag of peas that I found when I was scrounging around in the freezer for the shrimp, a carton of low sodium chicken broth, a bit of butter and fresh parmesan and dinner is on the table in half an hour. Out of white wine? Use some beer or port or sherry or skip that part altogether.  Sure, you are chained to the stove for 20 minutes of constant stirring but that also means you are forced to drink the white wine you just opened for the rice while you stand there stirring and you really need to take a few minutes to yourself and you know what? You have no choice but to just ignore everyone and stir up a simple pot of rice that slowly morphs into something magical right before your eyes. This is some sorcerous  food alchemy, people. All you really have to do is stir it.

I knew I was going to make risotto ahead of time but I had no idea what kind until I saw these beets at the market. The beets were tiny and adorable and the greens looked so bright. I mean, just look at those pretty pink stalks. Who could resist? I do make a beet risotto but I usually grate the raw beets and stir them into the rice and they cook in there, turning the entire thing bright pink like this but I didn't feel like doing that this time.  Instead, I sauteed the greens separately with some pancetta and precooked the beets as well, only adding them to the top of the finished risotto. I did cook a handful of the stalks in with the rice but they didn't colour the rice at all. The other way is easier and less work but this way is worth the effort.

Beet Risotto

serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side


1 bunch of small beets (approx 5), including greens
Olive oil (approx 3 tbls total)
1 clove garlic, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
50 gram pancetta, chopped
1 leek, chopped, including green part
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine, divided (pinot grigio works well)
about 6 cups chicken stock (if you start running out while you cook, just add a bit of water)
3 tbls pesto
2 tbls butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
a tbls chopped fresh basil per serving


Cut the beets off of the stalks. Peel them and slice them into thin coins, about 1/8" thick.
Heat a small pan over med heat and add about a tbls of olive oil when the pan gets nice and hot. Fry the beet coins for a few minutes, adding a pinch of kosher salt and then a bit of water - just enough to coat the bottom of the pan- cover it, lower the heat to med-low and let them steam for about 10 minutes. When they are done a fork should go in easily. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

cut the bottom of the stalks from the part that has leaves on it. Wash those stalks and chop them roughly and set aside. Do the same with the leafy part and set those aside as well.

Heat another pan over med to med high heat and saute the pancetta until it starts getting crispy. Add in the garlic and saute for another minute. Now add in the chopped leafy stalks and saute for about 3-5 minutes, just  until the greens are wilted and just cooked, check for salt and add a pinch as needed, remove to a bowl and set aside.
Put the chicken stock in a pot on a back burner and get it hot, but not quite simmering and keep it like that.
Now to start the risotto. Heat another tbls of olive oil in a deep pan or pot. I use my 5 quart Le Creuset pot. Whatever you use needs to accommodate the finished amount of rice, so keep that in mind. Saute the leeks for about 3 minutes. Throw in those chopped stalks (the bottom part that was closest to the beet) and sauted for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Push all of those solids aside, add one more tbls of olive oil and put the rice in the pot, stirring it around for a couple of minutes, trying to avoid the leeks/stalks as much as you can before finally just mixing it all together and keep stirring that around for another minute. Now pour in 3/4 cup of the wine and stir consistently until it's mostly absorbed. From this point on, you are going to stir pretty much constantly (making a figure 8 is a good plan) and you will keep adding stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring, when it is absorbed, add another ladle, stir etc etc
You will do this for about 20 minutes. You must taste from the 15 minute mark every few minutes to make sure you don't overcook the rice. It should have a nice bite to it but not crunchy but the 20 minutes will bring it to where it needs to be. The odd batch of rice might be ready a couple of minutes earlier or take a couple minutes longer so taste. When you are happy with the texture and think it's done, stir in the pesto and the last 1/4 cup white wine and stir it around for another minute.
Remove the pot from the burner, add in the butter and the parmesan and, with your wooden spoon, stir that in quite vigorously until the butter is melted and it's all nicely incorporated and creamy. Cover the pot and leave it for a minute while you go get your beet coins and the greens you have set aside.
Ladle rice into a shallow bowl and top with a spoonful of beet greens and some of the beet coins, scatter the fresh basil over the top and serve.

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