Beet Risotto with Goat Cheese,Thyme and Lemon Zest

If you’re already impatient with how long it takes to cook beets, then I don’t know how you’ll feel about my suggestion to slow down even more and make risotto out of them. It’s really Niki Segnit’s suggestion, and one that I admit I put off for most of the week because I couldn’t foresee when I’d have the time this week to stand over the stove and stir and stir.

But I love risotto and, given that I do have the time, don’t mind the stirring one bit–quite the contrary, actually– so mostly this meant a heightened sense of anticipation all week, a kind of frisson you might feel before a first date with a new, sexy someone.

I do think beets are very sexy and this recipe is something of a slow seduction.

Recipe #5: Beet Risotto with Goat Cheese, Thyme and Lemon Zest

2-3 cooked, diced beets

3/4 c. arborio rice

3 cups hot vegetable stock (keep it simmering on the stove)

1 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons grated parmigiano reggiano (or other sharp, hard) cheese

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

one onion, diced

2-3 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 tsp lemon zest

salt & pepper to taste

First, cook a diced onion in a pat of butter and a swirl of olive oil over medium-high heat. I like the combination for two reasons: the bit of oil means the butter burns less readily and the flavor of the two together is unctuous and wonderful. Be sure to salt the onion right away. This will help it release its juices and also make it delicious from the get-go.

Once it has softened, add 3/4 cup of arborio or other short-grain rice to the pot.

Once the grains are coated, add some diced or shredded cooked beets. Now, Segnit suggests a “sherry glass full” of white wine, but as I did not have any on hand, I reached for what I hoped would be a satisfactory substitute: sake.

Speaking of seductions. Paul and I have been date-nighting lately at a local Japanese-Chinese-Hibachi place, the only Asian restaurant in town with a liquor license (and an erudite and enthusiastic, awesomely-tattooed barkeep with what seems to be a made-up name). I always order the same thing there: hamachi kama, the grilled collar of the yellowtail fish. It is a delight that I have yet to write about because I’m not sure I have the appropriate superlative lexicon to do it justice. The last time we were there, I decided I wanted to order some sake to go with my glorious fish. I know very little about wine–I’m no amateur sommelier, nor do I wish to be. I am happy sipping what simply tastes good to me. But if I know little about grape-based wine, I know even less about sake. So I asked our guy to help me navigate and found this in front of me:And yes, I did kind of take flight! I also pretty well fell head over heels with the stuff, especially the shots (no, I did not drink them all) labeled D & E at the far right. Smokey, earthy, savory, yummy. Again, the proper words are eluding me, but the point is, Paul saw me swoon and then a few days later, when I was having a particularly dreary day, brought me a bottle of “D” to cheer me up.

And so when I found myself without white wine, I grabbed the bottle of sake and trusted that the earthy vintage would flirt well with the earthy-sweet beets. I like following my heart, going with my gut.

So, pour your wine into the hot pot and let it boil until it evaporates.

Now, you are going to be standing at the stove for a while. There are, of course, recipes that will explain how to approximate a traditional risotto in the microwave or through other shortcuts, and I am not saying they’re not worth looking at. What I’m saying is that I quite like the meditative state I get into when I stir. I always have. Spirit-soothing, even as my back, admittedly sometimes aches.

One of the of the reasons I like it so much occurred to me as I was stirring this very pot and realized that nobody in my house, but for me, was likely to eat this meal. While Paul will eat beets, he’s hardly passionate about them. So there I was, stirring and stirring and realizing how very much I enjoy cooking just for me. 

I didn’t have to worry about pleasing anyone else’s palate that night, which freed me to think about what I really, truly wanted. This is a lesson a high school friend taught me more than twenty years ago and I am always thankful to be reminded of.

Yes, I am advocating–proselytizing, even– culinary self love. Oh, baby.

So stir I did and you will, too. Add the hot stock one ladle at a time, stirring always. As it boils down, add another. Continue in this way–figure on at least fifteen minutes, possibly more–until the rice is al dente or tender all the way through, and the sauce is creamy and glossy-thick.

Add the parmigiano and the other pat of butter. Stir in the thyme and the lemon zest. Salt and pepper it to taste. 

Now, find a pretty, shallow bowl. Spoon some in and drop a chunk or two of softened goat cheese on top. Let it sit there and melt a moment, then stir gently and watch pretty white ribbons spool through pink. Traditionally, risotto is eaten from the outermost edge of the bowl, inward toward the still-warm heart of it.

Go, oh! slowly. The best seductions–yes, yes– take their sweet-earthy time.

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Have you ever seduced anyone with a meal? What is the best thing your beloved cooks?

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