Last night we were both pretty exhausted from a long week and decided to stay in. I had been contemplating a beet risotto since getting the beautiful red roots the week before and figured tonight was the night to try it out. What I wasn't prepared for was just how RED this meal was going to turn out.... near the end of cooking it I was confused as to whether I was making risotto or spaghetti sauce.
Confused by the red color I had Ryan Google beets while I was cooking and we learned that the red color comes from a pigment called betacyanin. This pigment is used industrially today to color tomato paste, sauces, desserts, jellies and ice cream, and I can tell why; just slicing the beets turned my fingers bright pink. We also learned that beets have been cultivated since the second millenium BC, probably started somewhere in the Mediterranean and were spread as far east as China by 850 AD. I could just imagine women using beets to redden their cheeks and lips, Memoirs of a Geisha style as I worked with them. It sometimes amazes me what kinds of colors can be found in nature! Below is my recipe for this Red RED Beet Risotto that would be a fabulous addition to a Valentines Day menu, and tasted deliciously rich with just a touch of sweetness.
Red Beet Risotto
3 red beets, stems removed and peeled
1 medium white onion, chopped
1.5 cups long grain white rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 cup (or so) water
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
I grated two of the beets in my itty bitty food processor, which didn't work very well, so I chopped the last one into 1/4 inch cubes. Then I chopped the onion and added it to a large, deep, saucepan with some olive oil. When the onions started to soften up I added the beets and sauteed for a few more minutes, then added the rice. The rice turned bright pink almost immediately. I added the liquid slowly, stirring constantly. I used the chicken stock first, then the white wine and finally added water until I achieved the consistency I wanted, which was smooth and creamy. The stirring process took just over an hour. Just before serving I added the parmesan cheese, folding it in to the literally "beet red" risotto.
The risotto made 4-5 good size servings. I topped it with some fresh grated parmesan cheese and black pepper and served it with a quick tilapia en papillote that I'd baked in the oven with some basil and parsley, lemon juice and butter. The risotto was yummy even though I admit the color was a little off-putting. I will definitely make it again, maybe next time serving it as a bed under a breast of chicken coated with bread crumbs and some parmesan cheese. Next time I would think ahead and cook the beet greens as well as a side dish.
I learned about the beets from my good friend wikipedia. Here's the link if you're interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beet. I was also surprised to learn that the amino acids in beets have anti-cancer properties and have been used to treat leukemia (in huge quantities). They also say drinking beet juice can inhibit the development of colon and stomach cancers. Who knew?