Those who have been following my blog know that I have a book coming out about Angelica Balabanoff by McFarland Publishers in September, The Strange Comrade Balabanoff: The Life of a Communist Rebel. To celebrate the book launch, for the time being I will dedicate my blog to Angelica, her friends, her leisure time and her ‘recipes.’ In point of fact, Angelica did not cook. For the majority of her life she was a vegetarian. She was not even interested in food. Nonetheless, her favorite dish was a vegetarian risotto, which her Italian friends used to make for her when she came over for a meal.
I’m suggesting to try today a beetroot risotto. True this recipe did not exist in Angelica’s time. However, coming from Chernigov, today’s Ukraine, she was certainly familiar with beetroot, one of the most common ingredients of the Ukranian and Russian recipes. So I decided to combine both and make a beetroot risotto to honour Angelica.
With its shocking colour and sound flavour, this dish is quite the exhibitionist. Keep it simple if that’s how you like it, but the optional toppings add layers of flavour. Serve as a main course, a starter, or as a lovely little extra alongside a bit of beef or oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel.
250g fresh beetroot
2 shallots, peeled
2 garlic cloves, peeled
850ml chicken or vegetable stock
35g butter, plus a knob for later
A splash of olive oil
175g risotto rice
80ml white wine
A little fresh thyme (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon
50g parmesan, freshly grated
Salt and black pepper
50g blue cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp mascarpone, cream or creme fraiche
A few baby spinach or rocket leaves
A handful of parmesan, goat’s or Lancashire cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp sour cream or natural yoghurt
A few walnuts, toasted
½ tbsp horseradish cream
2 Pour the stock into a pan, bring it to the boil then lower to a simmer. Peel the beetroot and blitz it with a blender or food processor adding4 tbsp of hot stock to make a thick, smooth puree.
3 Dice the shallots and garlic. Put a second pan on the hob. Add the butter and oil. Once hot, add the shallots and garlic. Reduce the heat to low and cook gently for 5 minutes, until the onion softens.
4 Tip the unwashed rice into the pan and stir well to coat it. Cook for a minute, stirring. Increase the heat. Add the wine and stir until it’s almost absorbed, then immediately add a large ladle of hot stock. Add the thyme, if using. Reduce the heat, so the mix keeps bubbling but doesn’t cook too fiercely.
5 Once absorbed, add another ladle of stock and keep stirring. Repeat this step until you have used virtually all the stock and the rice is just about cooked – this takes about 15-20 minutes. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice.
6 Stir in two-thirds of the beetroot puree. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the rest of the puree and half the parmesan. Stir in the butter to make it glossy. Taste and adjust.
7 Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pan and leave to rest for 3 minutes. Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and then finish with the remaining parmesan and your choice of toppings.
Let me know how you liked it!!!
Recipe adapted from Virgin to Veteran by Sam Stern (Quadrille).
Published in the The Guardian, Saturday 23 February 2013