beet risotto / farrotto

Once we learned how good beets can taste, as opposed to how good beets are supposed to be nutritionally (we knew that), the door opened to other applications besides the baked beet goat cheese combo we had first learned about thanks to our only visit to a local restaurant during its relatively brief lifetime. This was an impromptu creation, but upon later investigation, a natural one, since similar variations appear in several of our risotto cookbooks that we never even bothered to consult at the time. And since farro (= spelt) is superior to arborio rice nutritionally, farrotto makes this a healthier option. We are not the only ones realizing this, luckily, and the market seems to be increasingly supplying this demand with both farro and farro pasta now available in many stores to feed our desire for upgraded food intake ingredients. This time we used arborio rice, but one can make the identical dish substituting farro, cooking a little longer perhaps.

By saving the beet liquid from the packaging and adding it to the boiling rice/farro, the reddish coloring is intensified, and for color contrast, some flecks of green are aesthetically mandated, which together with the application of the goat cheese leads to the national colors of Italy (red, green, white) where beets are known as barbabietola. A long word. Insert a space to make "barba bietola" and you get bearded swiss chard? Interesting. So the search term for finding the original Italian recipes would be "Risotto con Barbabietola Rossa e Formaggio di Capra." You may find it unusual to specify "red" (rosso) beets, but last weekend we discovered that orange and pink beets exist in a new trendy restaurant in Hanover, NH (the Dartmouth college town), where they were found paired with red beets in a delicious salad. Independent of color, the taste is always the same.

But don't expect kids to easily try these dishes. Since beets are not a common veggie in the American cuisine, their palettes are not sufficiently developed, and their sense of adventure in trying new foods is notoriously absent. The nephew rejected our pleas to taste the beet salad the next night, but the niece at least tried one bite. And no more. Too bad. We read somewhere that kids have to try something about 10 times before breaking down their auto-rejection reaction, at least for unusual items. Parenting, not such an easy job. We passed.


8 oz package ready to eat beets
1/2 - 1 c arborio rice
1 onion, chopped
2 T olive oil
veggie broth
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
a handful of chopped fresh greens, say arugula or parsley
optional parmigiano, touch of light cream
optional pistachio crumbs
1/2 c approximately of crumbled goat cheese


  1. This is a standard risotto/farrotto recipe. Start 4 c water boiling in a teapot for the veggie broth concentrate.
  2. Clean and chop the onion.
  3. Sauté it in the olive oil until softened.
  4. Mix in the arborio rice / farro and sauté a bit until the flavors have a chance to absorb into them.
  5. Then add 1 c of boiling water with sufficient veggie broth concentrate for several cups, or in the farrotto case, add in 3 times the number of cups of water compared to the farro all at once.
  6. Simmer for about 20 minutes (30 minutes for farro) untll al dente, adding more boiling water 1/2 c at a time for the risotto as needed.
  7. Meanwhile add in the reserved beet water from the packaging (or some beet water from cooking, if ready to use beets are not used) and the beets chopped roughly into at least 1/2 inch cubes or less, say at the halfway point. Add in some salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Near the end of the simmering phase, say 5 minutes before, add in the chopped arugula, or in the case of parsley, at the very end.
  9. When the al dente point is reached, remove from the heat and adjust the salt and pepper. Optionally you can mix in a some freshly grated parmigiano to increase the creaminess, or 1/4 c light cream to make the color more pink.
  10. Scatter the crumbled goat cheese (and optional pistachio crumbs) over the individual servings and eat.


  1. In the new carb conscious century we have begun to cut in half our standard 1 cup rice and 1 lb pasta ingredient quantities. This leaves us without leftovers for another night, but also limits our second helpings somewhat. One can easily use a full cup here with the same amount of onion and beets, although the beet presence will be somewhat less intense. In fact maybe we even used a full cup here but we were too careless to take any notes at the time. And bob has trouble remembering what he ate the day before, so we'll have to experiment again in the future to clarify this fact.
  2. We used steamed and peeled baby beets from Trader Joe's. Now a product of France, so Melissa's brief relationship with Joe was apparently replaced by outsourcing. The global economy.
  3. By coincidence we had made this dish a month before a very similar recipe came out in Bon Appetit, February 2007: "Beet Risotto with Mustard Greens and Goat Cheese". They suggest adding a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to the broth, which we briefly considered in view of our pairing of this ingredient with the beets in the salad which preceded it, inspired by the orange vinegrate used in the restaurant where we first encountered beets with goat cheese. Maybe next time we'll experiment with this option.
  4. Illustrations available.


We hardly ever get any feedback, but bob saw an opportunity to bribe an astrophysicist friend gianpiero with an extra page in a scientific proceedings in order to get him to ask his wife rachele to try this recipe and report back. The response shows that kids are finicky everywhere, even teenage Italian daughters:

Subject: risotto con barbiabietola rossa e formaggio caprino
From: Rachele
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2007

ciao Ani, ciao Bob,

I cooked the recipe Bob suggested to Gianpiero: the "risotto con
barbiabietola rossa e formaggio caprino".
Delicious! Also Giulia, who strongly doesn't like the red beets, ate it
and liked it! Therefore you also helped me making Giulia to try some
food she thought was disgusting and change her mind about it.
I hope everything his fine with both of you.
If you will come to Italy, please plan to drop in and be our guests

A small victory for socially stigmatized vegetables!

post postnote

The FoodTV channel grew up to become the FoodNetwork channel and reigned supreme on cable TV for quite some time, but in 2010 a new food channel entered the scene: the Cooking Channel!   Both dot coms of course. The Cooking Channel has a completely different sort of public television look and feel to it, very nice. Okay, it turns out to be a spin off from the FoodNetwork that happened while we were summering in Italy this year (used to be Fine Living Network).

A few of the celebrity chefs ended up there, like Nigella and Jaime, but a whole zoo of new and different chef shows populated its program schedule. Among these David Rocco and his (almost) bilingual Italian Florence based food and friends show David Rocco's Dolce Vita, an addictive peek into the food scene of a city full of English speaking ex-pats (ex-patriot citizens) and terrific food. For this beet dish, he purees the precooked packaged ready-to-use beets that we find at Trader Joe's and drizzles truffle oil on each serving. Here is the recipe:

A pretty neat idea that we'll try next time.

beetrsto.htm: 6-oct-2010 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]