In Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins writes of the beet:“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.The beet was Rasputin’s favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.”
Clearly, they are not for everyone. Most people feel that the golden beet is milder than the classic red beet, and I happen to agree, but it wasn’t until recently that I came to appreciate the sweet-soil taste of a well-roasted red beet.
Beets in risotto though… would it be too intense? Would it be too earthy, or simply a pink mess? I couldn’t find any golden beets at the store so my risotto was perhaps doomed to be stained fuchsia. I don’t usually worry this much about a recipe, but Rebecca doesn’t even really like blue cheese, so my Beet and Blue Cheese Risotto had some hurdles to clear.
The recipe begins like any other risotto, with sweating onions in butter and making the house smell amazing. After cooking the rice in this fragrant mixture for several minutes, deglaze with white wine and begin slowly adding hot stock until the rice is cooked. Not mushy-cooked, but firm. Al dente.
The beets and cheese are added at the end and it was in these moments of folding it all together that I realized why golden or pink beets are preferred. It looked like clown vomit. It was a nightmarish shade of pink, a color that no natural food should be. And yet…
And yet it smelled amazing. Friends I had invited over for dinner looked a bit put off by the color, but the taste was universally lauded. It was, as anticipated, earthy. But it was also slightly sweet from the cooked beets, salty from the parmesan, and tangy from the blue cheese. Seconds were requested.
So no, it didn’t look anything like the photograph on the Williams-Sonoma website. But when does it ever? And does it even matter, when good friends smile and ask for seconds?