Fall brings with it a lot of root vegetables, which generally I like. Except for beets. I’ve never been a fan. They taste ok but they look like a mess to work with. After an over-zealous shopping spree at a farmer’s market, I found myself staring at two beets in my fridge wondering what to do with them. I was pretty much resigned to giving them to my mom, who loves beet salad, when I found a way to work them into one of my favourite Italian dishes – arancini – and it’s a win-win situation.
Arancini are balls of plain risotto, breaded and fried until crispy. You’ll usually find meat, cheese, peas and/or sauce in the centre. My favourite arancini from a bakery near my parent’s place are about four inches wide and are a meal on their own. I haven’t mastered that recipe just yet, but these arancini are a good stand-in as an appetizer or snack. The beet flavour is mellow and slightly sweet and the colour makes for a surprising first bite. Enjoy!
Beet Risotto Arancini
To make the risotto:
2 red beets
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup minced red onion
2½ cups arborio rice
7 cups chicken stock
5 tablespoons grated parmigiano cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
To make arancini:
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
oil for frying
To prepare the beets, trim them at the roots and scrub well. Simmer in boiling water, just enough to cover the beets, until they are tender enough to be pierced with a knife or fork (about 45 minutes). Set aside one cup of the water the beets boiled in, being sure not to take in any silt from the bottom of the pot. Remove the beets from the water and when cool enough to handle, peel and dice into 1/8 inch pieces.
Warm your chicken stock in a pot and have it nearby to complete the risotto. In a pot or large heavy pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them until softened. Add the rice, stirring to coat with the oil. Let the rice toast for two minutes.
With the pan still very hot, add a ladle of the hot stock. Stir constantly until all the stock has been absorbed. Then add another one to two ladles, giving plenty of moisture to the rice and stir until absorbed. Continue this process for ten minutes. Add in the beets and beet liquid, again stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the stock until the rice is creamy but still has a bite to it (al dente) or until all your stock has been used. Remove from the heat and add in the cheese and butter. Making the risotto, once the beets are prepared, should take approximately 20-25 minutes.
You can totally eat the risotto as is, and it’s wonderful, but you can also let it cool completely and use it to make arancini. Here’s how: once the risotto is cooled through, you’ll find it has thickened. Using a spoon, or small ice cream scoop, create small balls of the risotto. Use your hands to roll out the balls smoothly.
Prepare one bowl with bread crumbs in it, one bowl with flour and one bowl with an egg wash. To create the egg wash, crack the egg into the bowl, scramble and add two tablespoons of water. One at a time, coat the risotto balls first in flour, then into the egg wash and finally into the bread crumbs.
When complete, fry the arancini in vegetable oil that just covers them until golden brown (about three to four minutes). If using a pot rather than a deep fryer, be sure to turn the arancini a few times in the oil so one side does not burn while touching the bottom. When golden, remove to a plate with paper towel on it to absorb any extra oil.
If you are preparing these in advance, before frying them you can store them in the freezer. Thaw them for at least four hours before frying. Serve hot. These make great appetizers with a colourful surprise inside.