Taking the arm-ache out of risotto cooking by combining Heston’s Beetroot Spelt Risotto recipe from Heston at Home with the Modernist Cuisine pressure cooker method.
I hate cooking risotto. I know, I know… it’s the Italian equivalent of the roast potato. A gorgeous, comforting, satisfying carb dish that needs to be done “just right” to really be appreciated.
My risottos never turn out “just right”. Sometimes the rice never cooks, others the stock evaporates before being absorbed. Either way I endure 40 minutes of constant stirring (twice the advertised length) and a right arm that aches all the next day. When we can make Heston’s Spaghetti Carbonara recipe in half the time it’s just not worth the effort.
Or it wasn’t, until we discovered the Pressure Cooker Risotto recipe from 21st Century cooking bible Modernist Cuisine (on their website, we can’t actually afford a copy). Their technique is based on the principle that risotto grains can only ever absorb a fixed quantity of liquid. So stock and rice are combined in a pressure cooker for a set time, then finished off as normal.
And no more arm-aches makes trying out Heston’s Beetroot Spelt risotto recipe much more appealing. Especially since we can use Heston’s Acidulated Butter recipe prepared from last week. That, and we finally managed to score some spelt grains, after a solid year of searching. (£1 for 500g at Unicorn health food store in Chorlton – AS IF we’d pay £2.99 at Waitrose!).
Special Equipment: Pressure cooker
Special Ingredients: Acidulated Butter, Spelt
Time: 3 hours
Cost: About £10 (if you exclude the Maderia)
Step 1: Preparation
To make risotto you’ll need a stock (though I sometimes prefer plain water for a cleaner taste). We figured, hey, we’ve gone to all the trouble of dragging the pressure cooker down from the top of the cupboards. While it’s out, why not use it to make some of Heston’s pressure cooked vegetable stock for this risotto.
You can subtract a full hour of cooking time if you skip this step.
Step 2: Pickled Beetroot Cubes
You’ll want about 2 beets to provide 100g of uniform cubes. It’s quite sad saying goodbye to half the weight of each beetroot for the sake of presentation, but we’re starting to learn that Heston’s recipes are nothing if not wasteful.
Step 3 : Beetroot Juice Reduction
You’re best off doing this while the risotto is cooking, but we did it before that step because:
a) Juggling pans and a camera
b) Longer story: So I’ve got this “bunker mentality” where I like to have enough ingredients to hand that I could whip up, say, a paella at 3am on a Sunday night. This has obviously never ever been necessary.
This, (let’s call it a “sickness”), means I end up storing far more crap than we need in the cupboards and freezer. This is where our litre carton of beetroot juice comes in.
The recipe only calls for 200g of beetroot juice (which is reduced by half). What, then, do you do with the remaining 800ml you’ve purchased. Drink it?!!? Yeah, right!!
Anyhow, we reduced the full litre to 500ml, and stored the 400ml of leftovers in the freezer, handily portioned up using this ice cube tray.
Step 3: Pressure Cooking the Risotto
This was the bit we were most looking forward to. Sitting back while the timer ran and just letting the pressure cooker do its thing.
Confession time: not only am I quite inexperienced with risotto cooking, but I have never, ever cooked with spelt and only once with pearl barley (which seems like more or less the same thing).
So when the allotted 12 minutes of pressure cooking were up I was surprised to see the spelt still submerged under half a litre of stock. It had absorbed hardly any of it and…. oh hey, look what bit of the Modernist Cuisine instructions we missed…
… yep. You’ll recall our spelt didn’t look too “soaked overnight” (You know, in that photo of the ingredients we took just before the cooking started). We gave it a further 5 minutes on the stove and grains seemed to soften. They still had a quinoa-like crunchy outer shell and a slightly springy texture.
Is this the result we’re aiming for? Don’t ask me! We’ve already established how lacking my risotto credentials are. I haven’t a clue.
Step 4: Finishing the Risotto
So we think all that this “Mantecatura” business is the final step of making your risotto. Well, not if Heston Blumenthal has his way it isn’t.
As well as beating in parmesan cheese, crème fraiche and the previously made acidulated butter you’ll need to prepare a further two separate recipes: Horseradish Cream and Mustard Vinaigrette.
The good news is that both these recipes have exactly three ingredients each and are made from stuff you’ll probably have lying around (well, except for crème fraiche). Both are used as garnishes (the vinaigrette is used to dress shaved fennel) along with those pickled beetroot cubes we made back in step 2.
The vivid colour doesn’t take hold until after the cheese, butter and crème fraiche have melted into the risotto. At first it’s just brown grains sat in purple juice. The resting process mixes everything together to give each grain a brilliant purple coating.
Seriously, the colour is fantastic. We probably should’ve made this for Halloween!
But what’s the dish like? Well, with all the dozens of extra flavours (vinegar, horseradish, vinegar, fennel, vinegar, Dijon mustard, vinegar, etc.) I doubted you’d actually be able to taste the beetroot (there’s only 200ml of it in there to stand up against all the other flavours).
Actually you can taste the beetroot, and along with the nutty spelt it’s got a lovely, wintery flavour.
Until you start piling on the garnishes, that is. Remember all the white wine vinegar in the acidulated butter recipe? Well add that to the vinegary pickled beetroot cubes and the vinegar-dressed fennel and you can probably guess what the dominant flavour is.
Leave off the garnishes and this isn’t half bad. We’d probably make it with pearl barley next time (a suggested risotto grain from Heston’s first cookbook, Family Food). But with so many other Heston risotto recipes to try out I’ve no idea how long that remaining beetroot juice might linger in the back of the freezer.
One things for certain: we’re in no hurry to use more of that vinegary acidulated butter in the freezer!
If you’ve tried this dish, or you’ve any hints that can help make risotto-preparation less suicide-inducing please let us know in the comments section.
Indigo Memoirs – a detailed write up, photos and recipe from a creative polymath Marta.
Saveur – The original recipe for this dish from Heston’s Transylvanian Gothic Horror Feast.