Saturday, March 5, 2011

Recipe & Ingredient of the Day: Beta Vulgaris - the Underestimated Beet!

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. – Harriet Van Horne

Photo: Lisa Norwood, Flickr ccl
Beets are an under utilized vegetable in my opinion. They seem to have developed a bad rap over the years. Perhaps it’s because of their sometimes strong flavour, or that they have the tendency to turn your “ablutions” red the next day. Beets are delicious when roasted, are full of vitamins and minerals, and you eat not only the root but also the leaves.

Think about that the next time you're buying overpriced greens at the grocery store.

A fantastic recipe follows that combines a delicious risotto with beet roots, gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. It’s not difficult at all to make risotto. Just don’t answer the phone or door while you’re doing it. You need to tend the pot. This is an absolutely stunning, and unusual, dish.

The recipe is a favourite of mine from It was posted by libbysnax on October 08, 2006. I thank her for it.

About Beets
Beets (beta vulgaris) are a member of the order of flowering plants called Caryophyllales, which also includes bougainvillea, cacti, amaranth, carnations, spinach, and venus fly traps. Swiss Chard is a “bottomless beet.”

Photo: Wiki Commons
Red beets get their colour from a pigment called "betalain." Betalain is also responsible for the red colour of bougainvillea, amaranth and several other red vegetables.

Modern beets are derived from wild sea beets that originated around the coasts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Around 800 BC, an Assyrian writer described beets growing in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Since the 16th century, beet juice has been used as a natural red dye and also a hair colouring.

Commercial cultivation of sugar beets began in the 1800s in France and Belgium. Sugar beets are about 20% sugar while beets or beetroot are usually no more than 10% sugar. One cup of beets contains about 75 calories.

Today there are several varieties of commercially grown beets. The most common in the United States is the Red Ace. Other beets gaining revived prominence are “fancy” varieties such as white, yellow, or even striped. Note, when cooked, the striped beets tend to loose their distinctive colouring, so are best to use fresh in salads where their colouring can be enjoyed.

A word of warning, some people are susceptible to "beeturia," which is the colouring of urine and stools after eating beets. Don't be shocked. It is completely harmless.

Beet Risotto With Walnuts and Gorgonzola Cheese
Prep: 10 mins  |  Total: 45 mins

To avoid a completely pink risotto, gently fold in beets.
This obviously was not... Photo: savemejebus, Flickr ccl
1 bunch beets (3 to 4, or you can used canned beets)
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 -5 ounces gorgonzola
1/2 cup walnuts

Remove stems and scrub clean 1 bunch beets. (Keep the tops to serve as a green, either with the risotto or at another time. – D) Steam beets until tender, run under water, and then slip the skins. When cool, chop the beets into 3/4 inch cubes; you should have about 2 cups.

In a small pan bring 5 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock to a near boil with 1 tsp sea salt.

In a large pan over medium heat, warm 2 tbs olive oil with 1 tbs butter. Add in the onion and garlic.. Sauté until the onions are softened, about 10 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cup Arborio rice, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup stock and stir constantly until liquid is absorbed. Slowly add more stock as the liquid is absorbed, a little at a time. It should take about 20 minutes in all.

Before the last ladle of stock is added, stir in the crumbled Gorgonzola and walnuts.

After the last bit of liquid is absorbed, add the chopped beets. Let risotto stand 5 minutes before serving.

Docaitta note - If you don’t want the entire dish to be pink, fold in the beets just until distributed. Some colour will run, but it won’t be lurid pink – if that’s a bad thing…


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