Colourful and creamy, beet risotto bursts with the sweet earthiness of the humble beet. Salty crumbles of feta cheese and lemon zest add a bright finish. An equally great dish for a special date night in or a comforting weeknight dinner, this glowing magenta-hued risotto will make you smile. (Skip to recipe.)
'Date Night In' seems to be the way to go, in light of our current situation, and I say, let's embrace it. There are a lot of advantages to having a romantic dinner at home:
- no waiting around in crowded restaurants, not quite knowing what the quality of the meal will be like
- it's a lot cheaper
- there's no driving time or parking involved
- you can have dinner on the table in about the same time as it would take to drive there and wait for your order to come
- you can linger at the table as long as you like
- you can customize the meal exactly to your tastes
- you can cook together with your partner
- you can dance in the kitchen while cooking
- you can have a glass or two or three of wine and don't need to drive home
- you can be as loud, or as silly, or as romantic as you like
- you can dress up or dress down
- you can leave the dishes for morning
Aren't those all great reasons for having a special dinner in the privacy of your own home?
And may I suggest this lovely and luscious beet risotto? Shreds of sweet, earthy beets just seem to melt into the creamy rice. An extra knob of butter stirred in adds richness, and the addition of fresh lemon zest really makes this beet risotto sing. Crumbles of salty feta cheese sprinkled on top are the perfect counterpoint, giving you that cheesiness, but keeping the flavours clear and bright.
A risotto is a great dish for cooking together with someone else. You can take turns stirring the rice while the other person sets the table, assembles a first course or dessert, and opens the wine - or better yet, open the wine before you start cooking and have a sip while preparing the meal. In 30 minutes you can be sitting down to a memorable meal of creamy beet risotto.
A few suggestions for completing your meal:
For a first course:
or a fresh Kale Salad with Pear and Cranberries
For a dessert:
Now that we have the menu planned, let's take a look at how easy it is to make a risotto. Yes, there's stirring involved, but it's easy when you take turns. The rest is simple. The only important detail is to make sure you use risotto rice. This is a special variety of starchy rice with extra firm kernels so they don't cook to a mush while at the same time releasing their starch to make a silky smooth sauce. Arborio rice is the most common and easy to find, and it works well. But if you can find carnaroli rice (available at the Italian Center here in Edmonton), it is the king of risotto rices. The grains are larger and firmer, holding their shape very well, however it does take a little longer to cook.
Even though cheese is typically part of a risotto dish, this beet risotto is one of the few times it's better without. I've tried stirring in Parmesan cheese at the end, but it makes both the flavours and the colour murky. So instead, I've added the extra butter and lemon zest for a great flavour punch.
We'll start with a few knobbly beets, a wonderful late winter vegetable (not too attractive on the outside, but with a ruby-jewelled interior). They are a surprising addition to a risotto, but add this amazing sweet creaminess. And besides, beets are loaded with nutrients are so good for you in so many ways.
We'll shred them (but we can also use leftover cooked or roasted beets).
Then we'll get our risotto cooking.
Stir in some butter and lemon zest - do not skip the lemon zest - it's amazing how it brings all the flavours together at the end.
Look at the reward - an amazing beet risotto.
We'll finish it off with a sprinkling of feta cheese and some more bright lemon zest.
Then we'll pour the wine, put on some music and set the stage for our extra special Date Night In.
Here's to celebrating LOVE - any day of the year!
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: This beet risotto recipe serves 4, but you could easily halve it for a date night dinner for two. However, I love having leftover risotto. Reheat it and serve it as a side dish or for breakfast with a poached egg on top.
You can use white wine or rosé instead of the red wine. All good.
Arborio is the most commonly used rice for risotto, but I like carnaroli rice for risotto - the grains are slightly larger and firmer than arborio rice, but it does take about 5 minutes longer to cook. Do not rinse the rice for risotto - you need the starch on the outside of the grains.
The lemon zest is very important - it really pulls the flavours together at the end. I always try to use organic lemons when using the zest, to make sure it is toxin-free.
*Note: to make this risotto dairy free or vegan, use vegetable stock and replace the butter with vegan butter substitute. Replace the crumbled feta with coarsely chopped toasted walnuts.
- 5½ cups (1.32 litres) chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup (150gms) shredded, firmly packed raw beets, about 3 medium (2 inches/5cm in diameter) or shredded cooked beets
- 1½ cups (300gms) carnaroli rice (or arborio rice)
- ¾ cup (180ml) red wine
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
- chopped fresh dill or parsley to garnish - optional
Pour the chicken or vegetable stock into a saucepan and set onto the stove on low heat to bring it to a simmer. Keep it simmering while you make the risotto.
Heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a wide heavy dutch oven or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and shredded raw beets (if using cooked beets, add them when you add the first ladleful of stock). Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened.
Add the rice (not rinsed). Cook and stir for two more minutes. It will start to become a lovely purple colour already. Add the wine and cook and stir until most of the wine has evaporated. (If using cooked shredded beets, add them now.)
Add the simmering stock, one soup ladle full (about ½ cup) at a time, stirring after each addition, and continuing to stir frequently as it bubbles and cooks. Don't add the next ladleful of stock until most of the previous stock has been absorbed and when you scrape a spatula down the center of the pan, it leaves a clean path with the liquid slowly oozing in to refill it. Never let the risotto cook completely dry. Stir frequently (but you don’t have to stir constantly).
Continue adding stock, cooking, and stirring until you have used all but the last ½ cup of the stock. This should take about 20 to 25 minutes (~20 for arborio rice, ~25 for carnaroli), and the rice should still have a firm bite to the center of each grain, but the outside should be creamy and soft.
Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and half of the lemon zest. Taste and add more salt if it needs it. If the risotto is quite thick, add the last ½ cup of hot stock to thin it out just before serving. The final texture of the risotto should be loose, with a bit of liquid pooling and visible between the rice kernels.
Serve the risotto with the feta cheese crumbled over it. Sprinkle with chopped fresh dill or parsley and the remaining half of the lemon zest grated over the top for a fresh garnish.
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