Beets are one of those vegetables that I really want to like. They come in a stunning array of colors, often with lovely circular striations when you slice them open, they can be roasted (one of my all-time favorite techniques) for a soft, silky texture, and they are insanely healthy. The freshest beets come with a gorgeous green frill of leaves attached that taste remarkably similar to their cousin, Swiss chard. So what’s not to like? I just can’t help but think that beets taste like dirt. But every year, I try to let myself be tempted by a pretty bunch of fresh beets, so maybe one day I will find a preparation that makes beets more palatable to me.

This year I picked up a bunch of golden beets. From the deep orange tone of the skin, the name appears to be a misnomer until you cut one open and get a look at its glorious, sunny yellow interior. Beside the cheery color, golden beets don’t have the same staining capacity as the red ones (which make your cutting board—and hands—look like a crime scene), and their flavor is milder to boot, a key factor for me. I roasted all of my beets, which were mostly quite small, at 375F for about 35-45 minutes, tossed with olive oil and salt. They were done when a knife slid in without resistance, and once cool enough to peel, I divided them up for sampling in several different recipes.

For this meal, I decided to make a golden beet and porcini mushroom risotto, topped with a bit of wild salmon sauteed in sage butter. The idea was to surround the beet with the more familiar earthy flavors of porcini and sage. I mashed up about 1/2 cup of the roasted beets with a fork and worked them into the risotto as it cooked, then diced up just a few tablespoons more for texture at the end. The resulting risotto had a warm color and a very subtle flavor from the mashed beets; making this again, I would be bolder and as much as double the number of beets. Together with the sage and porcini, this felt more like a warming autumn meal than one for summertime, but we’ve had surprisingly cool weather for a good part of the summer here, so it suited the day.

The verdict? These golden beets show a lot of promise for me. Their lighter color and milder flavor makes them easier to tuck into a dish on the sly, hopefully allowing us to learn to appreciate those undertones of dirt and come back around to the ruby red variety.  I’ve still got a few left to play with—chocolate chip beet cake, here I come!

Porcini and Golden Beet Risotto

2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 small golden beets, washed and roasted, then peeled and diced
1/2 C dried porcini mushrooms
1 C arborio rice
1 leek, sliced and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp dried sage (or a few leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped)
1 C dry white wine
3 C chicken stock
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F; toss the beets with olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt, and ground black pepper in aluminum foil packets for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until fork tender. Remove and let cool; peel and dice the beets, coarsely mashing half of them with a fork, and set aside. Meanwhile, steep the porcini mushrooms in hot water for about 15 minutes to rehydrate; drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and chop mushrooms coarsely.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-high and sauté the leek and garlic for a few minutes, until they soften.  Add the rice, stir well, and sauté for several minutes until it begins to look glassy and translucent. Season with a hefty pinch of kosher salt, some freshly ground black pepper, and the sage. While the veggies and rice cook, add the stock and mushroom soaking liquid to a small saucepan and bring up to steaming; it doesn’t need to boil.

In the large saucepan, add the wine to the rice mixture and bring it up to a boil.  Then immediately reduce the heat to medium low and cover with a lid for several minutes until half of the wine cooks away. Remove the lid from the skillet and add about a cup (one and a half ladle’s-worth) of the hot stock.  Stir well, reduce the heat to low and replace the lid. After about 10 minutes, check on the risotto; it should be moist, but no longer wet, and certainly not dry (you should be able to tell by listening to it without removing the lid). Add more stock; repeat these steps, adding stock only after the previous addition has been absorbed. The process from the point of covering should take anywhere between 20-35 minutes, depending on your equipment. When you’ve added about 2/3d of the stock, start tasting samples of the rice; when done, it should be tender and slightly al dente in the center, but not mushy. At this point, turn off the heat and gently add the beets.  Stir thoroughly and adjust seasonings. I garnished mine with a little addition of fresh ricotta cheese, but this is not strictly necessary; the addition of some soft goat cheese instead would be divine.

Source: Adapted from Scrumptious Street.

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