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I had to laugh a little when I saw that this month’s Daring Cooks Challenge was risotto. It doesn’t take very much time on this blog to figure out that we love the stuff and I even have a whole category dedicated to it! I took the opportunity to step a little out of my comfort zone and make a vegetarian meal based around the risotto itself rather than relying on lots of toppings. In fact, this simple and delicious risotto only makes three changes to the standard recipe — the addition of beets and the substitutions of goat cheese for parmesan and red wine for white.

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

In my recent blog survey, an overwhelming number of you asked for more information on how to create your own recipes. Risotto is the perfect place to start! Once you have the basics of making the base down, you can feel free to experiment with add-ins. The rice itself has a very subtle flavor, so just about any other ingredients will work — you can either mix them in, like I did here, for a more uniform flavor or you can serve them on top of the rice and let each individual flavor speak for itself. Pick an ingredient that you want to use, and think about what other flavors work well with it. Those will be the main components of your dish – 2 or 3 should be plenty. Then you can change up the items in the base to go along with those flavors. There are three main areas where you can make changes — the aromatics, the wine, and the cheese. For example, if you’re going for a French theme you might want to use shallots instead of onion and ramps go great with other springtime flavors like peas or asparagus. If you’re using a bold flavor like sliced steak and don’t care about the risotto being a creamy white, you can consider using red wine. And you can use whatever cheese you think will go best with the flavors that you’re using.

For this dish, I took my inspiration from one of my favorite salads — simple greens dressed with beets and crumbled chevre. Since I had an open bottle of pinot noir and I didn’t care about the dish being pristine white so I used that instead of white wine. The flavor of the beets were strong enough that they masked the wine and either would probably have worked just as well. Upon the first taste, I could tell that it needed something — the flavors were kind of muddled and heavy. Lots of freshly ground pepper did the trick! I’ve found that whenever a recipe I’m creating seems too dull, it’s because it needs either more acidity or more spice. Something like a splash of lemon juice, a simple vinaigrette, or some black pepper is usually all you need to perk the flavors right up!

What would flavors would you use in your risotto?

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Beet Risotto with Goat Cheese

Shredded beets melt into this risotto, giving it a vibrant color and an earthy flavor. The goat cheese enhances the rice’s creaminess and the pepper packs a punch to cut through the richness. If you don’t like beets, you can change the add-ins to create your own perfect recipe.

Risotto Base:

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1.5 cups risotto rice, such as Arborio or Vialone Nano
  • 2 ounces red wine
  • 5 cups vegetable stock

Add-ins:

  • 3 small beets, peeled and shredded
  • 4 ounces soft goat cheese, such as chevre, crumbled
  • cracked black pepper

Heat your oil in a large pan and add the onion. Fry for a few minutes until the onion softens. Add the rice and stir to allow each grain to become lightly coated with oil. Continue to cook until each grain of rice becomes translucent except for one small white pearl in the center. Add the wine and let it cook until all of the liquid evaporates.

Add enough stock to just cover the rice. Lower the heat to medium and cook until most of the stock has been absorbed, stirring frequently with a large spoon. Repeat this step until all of the stock has been used and the risotto is plump and creamy.

Stir in the grated beets and half of the cheese. Continue to cook until the beets are heated through — this will only take a minute or two. Add in some freshly cracked black pepper — taste as you go to determine how much you should add.

Portion the risotto into 4 dishes and top with the remaining cheese.

Serves 4.
Approx. 420 calories, 13 grams fat, 2 grams fiber, 10 grams protein