Back in the days of yore when I was at home revising for my A Levels, I saught distraction from the TV. There were only four channels in those days and Freeview was merely a twinkle in someone’s eye, but there was a delightful little midday show that afforded me a break called Light Lunch with Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Combining a spot of cookery, chat and comedy accompanied with a studio audience eating their sarnies at the same time, it was much easier to digest than than the Westerns on the other channels. One of the reasons that this programme has stuck in my memory is the fact that it introduced me to one of my favourite dishes of all time, a perfectly pink beetroot risotto.
Unfortunately I can’t remember who made the dish to give them their credit, but I do know that I have been making this attractive and delicious dish ever since. It works equally well flavourwise with a stock cube and that vacpac of beetroot that lurks at the back of fridge as a lovingly crafted chicken stock and slow roasted beets from the garden and the colour dazzles even the most veg-sceptic around. Depending on your choice of stock, it makes a great vegetarian dish that looks a bit dinner party even when you’re just sitting down to supper. The fact that it is super easy to make is just another advantage.
If you’re using fresh beetroot, simply roast it as you always would. I like to season it well and add a sprig or two of thyme. Allow to cool slightly and then blitz in the food processor or blender until pureed. It won’t be completely smooth, but don’t be tempted to add oil in an attempt to make it a humous style consistency. It will be utterly revolting when combined with the rice. Simply leave to one side while you get the risotto underway.
Start your risotto as normal, softening an onion in some butter before coating the rice (I tend to use arborio, simply because it’s easier to come by for me) and sealing it properly. Then start adding your wine and hot stock in stages, stirring well to create the starchiness required for the alluringly creamy texture a good risotto should have. Make sure you have a glass of wine to hand, a friend to gossip with and everything you need to serve the dish fairly close to hand and then enjoy the various stages of cooking.
Once you’ve added the last of the liquid to the rice, mix in the pureed beetroot and allow to warm through as the rice finishes off. It should spread its irrestistible colour through the grains, turning it an alluring crimson. Grate in a little bit of parmesan, but I advise skipping the butter that usually gets added to a finished risotto. I find it doesn’t sit well with this dish with the sweet earthiness of the beetroot clashing with the butter. Instead once I’ve dished up, I either add a spoonful of cream cheese or some crumbled goats’ cheese to the top and allow them to combine flavours as you eat. It also makes the risotto look even more striking upon serving.
But this isn’t all about looks. It’s a delicious dish that I never tire of. Smooth and nuttily sweet, but complex, it slips down a treat, converting everyone I’ve tried it on. Kids love it and have been known to clear their plate and ask for more. It makes a great standby dish and I sort of think we aren’t really close friends until I’ve served it you at least once for dinner…