I have been reading a lot about beet risotto recently, so I finally decided to try my hand at making it. I am a beet lover to the core—boiled, roasted, sliced, diced, ravioli filling… you name it, I eat it. I love that beets are full of flavor and are healthy at the same time: the root is a good source of vitamin C and iron, and a very good source of fiber, folate, and potassium. But what about the greens? I am the sort of cook that hates waste. If I’ve separated an egg for a meringue, I will hold onto the yolks (sometimes too long – I suggest using them immediately, from personal experience). Yes, it’s easy to find a solution for beet greens if you’re making a salad, but a risotto? I’ve made risottos with all sorts of vegetables before, from zucchini to asparagus, so I thought that beet greens might not be too different. Why not throw them in the pot as well?
Traditional Italian risottos call for arborio rice, but it has proven difficult for me to locate at times, as well as expensive for the quantity. When I lived in Italy, translations on arborio boxes often included the word “parboiled” so I looked into what that meant and found that the term refers to the way the rice is processed. Parboiled rice is rice that has been boiled in the husk, improving its nutritional profile and changing its texture. Parboiling drives nutrients into the grain itself, so that parboiled white rice is nutritionally similar to brown rice. This type of rice takes longer to cook, and the resulting texture is firmer and less sticky than most cooked rice. Although this might not work for sushi, it is useful for making risotto, which is a slow process that requires the rice starches to be released slowly over time.
I began the way I always begin to cook risotto, with two pots on the stove. In the larger pot, I drizzled olive oil and let my diced onion begin to simmer. In the smaller pot, I brought my homemade chicken stock to a slow boil. My initial intention was to grate the beets to allow the thin strips to brown evenly alongside the onion, but halfway through the smallest of the bunch, I gave up and zapped the rest in the microwave for 30 seconds in a bowl with a bit of water in it. This didn’t cook the beets but merely softened them enough for a knife to pass easily through. I diced them and through them into the pot once the onions took on a translucent color. Then I removed the stems from the greens, washed them, and cut the leaves into little slivers. Into the pot those went as well, and I allowed the vegetables to cook down for about five minutes before adding a cup of the rice.
Once the rice browned (about a minute), I began to slowly add the simmering broth, stirring to let the liquid absorb slowly, building the texture of the risotto, incorporating the beets, greens, onions, and rice. 20 minutes and 4 cups of broth later, I pulled the risotto from the heat and added about a half cup of freshly grated Grana Padano (the ‘skim’ version of Parmigiano, which I enjoy for its nuttier flavor). Then, my roommate and I sat down to eat. Recipe conclusion? The beet greens held up nicely in the risotto, adding flavor and texture, rather than wilting away as I had feared. The rice itself worked well, although it had a nuttier quality than arborio typically has. My only regret was not roasting the beets longer in the pan. They were a little undercooked, but nonetheless wonderful. At least for a beet lover.