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Risotto is one of the finer things to come out of Northern Italy. It’s versatile—you can make a risotto out of almost any vegetable, herb, seafood, or meat and it can be a side dish or a main dish.  My CSA delivers beets in abundance so this dish arises out of the constant need to find interesting ways to use them. With a little fennel seed to add depth to the flavor, I use this as a mid-week supper dish. The color is enough to enliven the evening.

And don’t forget the greens. They are delicious and it’s a shame that supermarkets often sell their beets without them. You can mix the greens into the risotto but that will bury their flavor. I prefer them as an accompaniment.

Risotto has to be stirred frequently if not constantly. This allows the starch to leach into the liquid creating a creamy sauce while leaving the grains of rice slightly chewy.

A medium grain rice works best. The longer the grain the less creamy and more chewy the risotto will be. Carnaroli rice makes very chewy risotto. Arborio is less chewy and creamier. The key is to add hot broth gradually making sure the rice absorbs the liquid before adding more. The rice should be fully cooked but firm.

There is a great debate about whether risotto should be served with a loose, soupy texture (called all’onda) characteristic of Veneto or with a thicker consistency more typical of Lombardy or Emilia-Romagna. My version is the thicker sort.

Recipe is below the fold.

Ingredients:

1 Tblspn olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
2 ounces prosciutto, chopped
1 cup white wine
7 cups chicken broth, heated (or more as needed)
12 ounces beets shredded
3/4 Tablspn fennel seeds, ground if possible or use whole
1/2 cup or more parmesan cheese shredded
1 Tblspn butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

1 Heat oil in a wide pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and stir occasionally until soft but not brown.

2 Add pancetta and cook two minutes (make sure onion does not brown)

3. Then add rice, stir and cook until just toasted

4. Add wine and stir occasionally until almost evaporated. Then add 1/2 the beets, and a ladle of hot stock and stir continuously until stock is absorbed. Then add the rest of the beets and another ladle of stock continuing to stir.

5. Add fennel. Then add more stock one ladle at a time, stirring continuously until stock is absorbed before adding more. Cook until rice is al dente (20-25 minutes), remove from heat and rest 1 minute.

5. Beat in parmesan and remaining butter until combined and creamy. Season to taste and serve immediately.

To prepare the greens:

Blanch in simmering water for 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly and chop.

In a frying pan, heat 1 tablspn of olive oil, and saute 1 clove garlic chopped or sliced as you prefer, then add greens and cook 2-3 minutes.

Season to taste and serve with lemon to drizzle.