As a Brit arriving in Australia I was fascinated by the penchant of this antipodean nation for a food that can be found everywhere and in everything ‘Aussie’. One may be thinking of the imperious Vegemite (I’m a ‘Marmiter’, of course) or even the notion of throwing a shrimp on the barbie – which is as ridiculous as a Brit roasting a shrimp for Sunday lunch – you will find steak and snags (sausages) on any barbie here. No, Aussies have a fascination with beetroot, and given the title of this piece I am sure that you were not hanging by a thread in expectation of what the food was.
I remember visiting a certain burger joint in my early days here and seeing advertised an Aussie version of a burger. In high expectation of some added seafood or a Kangaroo patty I was somewhat disappointed to find out that this version was ‘Aussie’ due to a slice of beetroot. I think beetroot is magnificent, and I am sure that I have eaten more pickled slices and spheres of this vegetable as a kid in England than probably anyone, but I was a little perturbed that I had travelled ten thousand miles to be greeted by beetroot being Aussie. And it’s not as if there is a history of magical concoctions and gastronomic delights, or any new awakenings to the power of beetroot; it’s pretty much been the tinned variety which has been a staple here for the last 50 years or so. According to the main processor of beetroot in Australia the only plausible reason for the popularity of this ‘tinned’ vegetable is that the English migrants brought over a love of beets and pickling recipes with them.
Now, in high-end gastronomic restaurants we are seeing a multitude of coloured baby beetroots, usually pickled or candied, that shows off the real potential of this root vegetable. The real success behind beetroot’s prowess, however, is the combination of earthiness and sweetness which is wonderfully offset by acidity (hence the pickling obsession) and saltiness, or both.
So as a testament to Australia, where I still reside, and Yorkshire, my home, I have created this brilliant flavour combination in a risotto base. The beetroot is juiced and reduced to produce an intense sweetness and a deliciously crimson-like aesthetic. It is then offset by Wensleydale cheese; a white crumbly cheese from Yorkshire that has a calm but noteworthy sourness to it, a mild saltiness and underlying creaminess. Together with the earthiness and sweet beet sugars we have ingredients that will form a lifelong relationship.
Beetroot and Wensleydale RisottoPrint
- ■ 1 kg fresh beetroot | When juiced this yields about 400ml of beetroot juice.
- ■ 25g butter |
- ■ 1 red onion | Finely diced.
- ■ 300g Arborio rice | Italian short grained rice, ideal for risotto.
- ■ 125ml white wine | I use a Chardonnay – just avoid a sweet wine.
- ■ 200ml veal stock | See below for recipe link. For a vegetarian version of this dish use vegetable stock.
- ■ 200ml water | Used to make up the liquid content to 600ml.
- ■ 1 tsp. sea salt | For seasoning.
- ■ 100g Wensleydale cheese | Cut in to small cubes. A mild goat's cheese can be used - I feel feta is too salty and not acidic enough so doesn't work well.
- ■ 30g butter | Cut in to small cubes.
- ■ seasoning of sea salt and black pepper |
Preheat your oven to 180 deg C (360 deg F).
Take the beetroot and cut into pieces that will fit through a juicer. Juice the beetroot and then pass the juice through a fine sieve. You should have about 400ml of beetroot juice. Put the juice in a pan and gently reduce it by half to yield 200 ml.
Add the veal stock and water to the reduced beetroot juice (we are looking for 600ml of liquid as the ratio of rice to liquid should be 1:2) and heat until just below boiling. Turn off the heat.
Put a dish that is both flame-proof and oven-proof (and has a lid) e.g. a cast-iron casserole, over a low heat. When warmed add the 30g of butter and when it starts to foam add the red onion. Cook over a low heat for about 6-7 minutes until soft and translucent, but not browned. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Toast for a minute or so whilst continually stirring – the rice should have a nice straw colour to it. Now add the white wine and wait until it is has completely reduced/ absorbed. Now add the beetroot and stock mix. Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt and stir. When the liquid starts to boil put a lid on the dish and put it in the oven for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes remove the dish from the oven, remove the lid and check the rice. All the liquid should have been absorbed and the rice a great texture. Gently stir the rice to loosen it. Now scatter the cubes of butter and Wensleydale over the rice. Put the lid back on the dish and leave to rest for 2 minutes. Remove the lid, gently stir the rice so that the cheese is well distributed and the butter has completely melted. Season with salt and black pepper, according to taste.
I served this with blanched asparagus and shaved baby fennel coated in a herb and balsamic dressing.
The recipe for veal stock is here.
You will notice that this version of risotto does not involve the traditional method of adding stock a ladle at a time and continually stirring. It was a revelation when I tried it about a year ago and I cook many of my risottos like this. However, some risottos like risotto alla Milanese I still cook the traditional way to get a more ‘free-flowing’ consistency.