One day Alex told me that his friends were having an argument about risotto. One argued that it was over-cooked rice; the other said that it wasn’t. I’ve had mushy, over-cooked rice before, and it’s definitely not risotto – it’s unpalatable. As Alex said, it’s not as if you just add a little extra water to rice, cook it a little extra, and you have risotto – if you did that, you’d have something much more like porridge.
Weeks later (on Friday, to be exact), the topic came up again because I was planning to make risotto for dinner. The over-cooked side decided to call it a matter of semantics. Both of them agreed that starch from the rice leaches out into the water in the risotto. (I guess that normally, if you have too much of the food leach into a liquid, it’s over-cooked – like mushy broccoli, definitely bad.) The degree to which this happens depends on the kind of rice you have. Long-grain rice doesn’t leach the starch quite like this. You need short-grained rice, with more starch, to make risotto. Just stirring rice after it’s cooked doesn’t make risotto, either – if you stir glutinous rice too much, the rice will stick together, break down, and you’ll be at the beginning of a road to making mochi.
Risottos usually require constant (or very frequent) attention – you stir frequently so that the starch separates from the rice to make the dish creamy. Most recipes I’ve seen call for the addition of cheese at the end, which melts and also makes the dish creamy. At least, that’s what I assume – because I don’t like cheese and don’t use it when I cook. So I was very excited when I found a recipe for risotto that didn’t use cheese… because it was a beet risotto!
Beets are one of my favorite foods that I discovered in the past few years. I never ate them growing up, so I skipped the time of life where I don’t like them. I’m lucky in that I’ve only ever had freshly cooked beets. I got to miss out on them… out of a can? Is that how they normally are? They’re a pretty strong, earthy flavor when I’ve had them, but I’d never made them before now.
I found a recipe for Beet Risotto with Kale. I actually couldn’t find regular red beets for this, so I ended up buying some organic (orange? golden?) beets which were only a few cents more. Roasting them was going to take so long that I did that in the oven the night before I made this dish so that we wouldn’t wait forever for dinner. I skinned them the next day and blended them with the vinegar, tarragon, and oil on the day of, and then proceeded with the rest of the risotto instructions.
I used Japanese rice, which I always have around and usually use when I make risotto, instead of Arborio rice. I didn’t heat the liquid before I made the risotto. I didn’t need the entire 4 cups of liquid – I used about 2 cups of vegetable broth (rather than chicken broth) that I had in the fridge, and another cup and a half of water. Aside from that, I don’t think I changed anything else. We had it with steaks (cooked under the broiler).
The risotto was much prettier in person than in the picture. Better yet, it was delicious! I really enjoyed this dish. The flavor of the beets really came through, complimented by the red wine vinegar. I probably could have done without the kale in this, but I also chopped it too coarsely, so that we had big mouthfuls of kale. The full recipe yielded a lot of risotto – definitely a full 4 servings. We still have leftover risotto in the fridge, and I’m looking forward to eating it. Even though it took a little work, I’ll definitely make this recipe again.