I’ve hesitated posting this one, not because I don’t want to share, but because writing up a recipe for risotto is risky. Firstly, because there are many ways to risotto. Secondly, because my combos tend to veer from the classic risotto ‘giallo’ (‘yellow’, otherwise known as Risotto Milanese) or a mixed mushroom variety, although I love both. I have had long conversations with Italians and non-Italians alike about attempted risotto combinations, as thrilling (truly) as conversations about my favourite herb (a tie between basil and dill) and spice (pimentón [Spanish paprika] with cumin a close second). My Milanese parent-in-crime is a classicist. He doesn’t mess with the giallo, hailing from the same city as said risotto. And a deliciously creamy marriage of saffron and butter it is.
The third reason why this has felt challenging, is because Italians do have firm rules about the risotto-making process. If anyone is familiar with the Jamie Oliver paella story – he added chorizo, NOT an ingredient in a traditional paella and thus inciting a Spanish media outcry – committing this recipe to the bloggo is fraught, despite my blog having about the same reach as my Yiayia’s circle of gossip. I have slowly caved and incorporated some of these rules into my own risottos (risotti?), and have incorporated these into the method here. However, since posting this recipe, I have had ‘feedback’ from two Italians (see notes below) and what you are now reading is an update, hence proving my point.
Most of my versions are based on what I have on hand. Every now and then there is a confluence of flavours that makes my eyes involuntarily close as I let a warm spoonful linger in my mouth. This risotto is one of such a heavenly confluences, made possible by the beetroot gifted to me yet again by Tanya’s dad.
I first tasted a beetroot risotto after a morning at a maths curriculum conference (yes, these exist) years ago, at some upmarket lunch spot in the Melbourne CBD. I remember its silkiness and slight acidity (the risotto, not the conference), and have since associated this type of risotto with maths and my lovely mathematical colleague, who schooled me over lunch in the ways of the maths teaching underworld. Perhaps the most mathematical aspect of this risotto is in the distribution of roast beetroot, walnuts and gorgonzola pieces, of which a heavy-hand may cause the flavour to be overpowering; too scant and it is lacklustre. You can use goat’s cheese here instead of gorgonzola, a popular and very natural friend of beetroot, but I had gorgonzola in the fridge and it made for a less tart, more decadent risotto. My own rule is no rules for flavours, as you now know, so may you creamify your risotto as pleases you.
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 whole beetroots, preferably with skin on
2/3 cup white wine OR 1/4 cup of sherry / marsala (weird, but it works)
3 vegetable stock cubes*
good handful walnuts
80 g gorgonzola (I used dolce [sweet] which is most commonly available in Australia)
Salt / pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1–2 tablespoons chopped parsley or thyme
Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, to taste
Handful rocket (optional)**
Serves 3–4 (depending on portion size)
1. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Prepare the beetroot by either roasting with the skin on (wash thoroughly first, leaving roots in tact, then peeling once out of the oven with gloves and a paper towel) or skin off as I did, removing the skin with a peeler or small knife and cutting the beets into small chunks. Place beetroot in a roomy roasting pan, season and bake for around 40 minutes if skin on, or 20–30 mins if off. You might also like the roast the walnuts a little at this point, to give their flavour a little more depth. I also added a teaspoon of honey to mine before roasting, for a pop of sweetness.
2. Boil 2 litres of water in a pot. You may find you don’t use all of this, but better to have more than less. Once brought to the boil, add the stock cubes and keep it simmering on a low heat.
3. Select a large, heavy-bottomed pot with high sides, or if you don’t have one of these, use a large frying pan (what I was using before my Italian risotto schooling). Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter on a medium heat. Once sautéed, add the rice and stir through for a couple of minutes, until the rice is coated with the oil/butter and it is ‘toasted’, that is that the ends are translucent and the middle is still white.
4. Add the white wine or sherry, and allow the rice to sizzle and absorb the alcohol. The quantity listed is a rough amount (most of the quantities are!), so a little more is perfectly reasonable. Cook the rice for another two to three minutes until it’s soaked up the alcohol and calling out for more liquid.
5. Using a soup ladle or mug, add one ladle of the boiling broth to the rice. Allow each ladle of broth to absorb before adding the next, stirring the rice a little in between.*** I like to stay with my rice and stir it well at first, and then a little more lightly before adding the next ladle, but you can leave it here and there to do its own absorption thing between ladles. However, do not add more than one ladleful at each round in an effort to speed up the process – slow cooking the rice is the key to its creaminess.
6. When the rice is starting to cook and expand a little, but a few minutes away from being ready, add two-thirds of the roast beetroot pieces. Stir well and watch as the rice turns pink. Continue to cook the rice with the ladling, stirring and waiting method. You can also add some seasoning at this point.
7. When the rice is just cooked and has a creamy texture, turn off the heat. Add in two-thirds of the gorgonzola, in chunks, and stir through. Add the extra tablespoon of butter for greater silkiness and most of your herb of choice. Check for seasoning and adjust, if necessary. If the mixture is too thick, you can add a little extra broth to loosen.
8. Serve immediately topped with some of the beetroot pieces, a scattering of walnuts gently crushed in your palms and a little of the extra gorgonzola, as well as a drizzle of olive oil. A little rocket on top is nice at this point to cut through the decadence, but also unnecessary. As is the extra Parmigiano or Grana as an additional cheese on top, but for some this is essential.
I hope you get to enjoy your own little eye-closing moment as you delight in this very pretty and indulgent risotto.
* Since posting this recipe I have indeed been contacted by two Italians with corrections. But are excellent cooks, but also validated why posting a risotto recipe is high risk! So, a homemade vegetable broth is also a natural choice instead of 2 litres of water with stock cubes added. If you a time-poor and perhaps forgot about the frozen vegetables you’ve been saving for such a stock (oops), cubes are fine!
** Rocket is OPTIONAL. One Italian said everything looks good, apart from the salad on top. Now, I’m a salad-on-the-side kind of girl, but I wanted this rocket on top because that evening it made sense for my digestion and palette. Feel free to ignore the leaves.
*** Italian #1 (stock cube hater) said that one should stir ‘energetically’. By all means, do. I stir with some vigour initially and then back off a little to let the rice do its thing. When adding cheese and butter at the end, I will usually stir energetically then. I have seen Italians take to their rice like Will Smith in a doomsday movie and the result is delicious. But mine was delicious too, so…. Be one with your rice and observe it. If it’s sticking to the pot around the sides, keep scraping and stirring to combine and cook the rice evenly. If it’s puffing up and speaking to you, add more broth.