A couple days ago I read a recipe for beet gnocchi that caught my imagination. That night, I had yet another bout of insomnia. Instead of sleeping I thought about beets and gnocchi, and beets and pasta, and beets and rice. To serve, I spread the beet risotto on plates, and topped each serving with a chunk of tender halibut. I spooned capers and parsley over the fish, and garnished the plates with the oil-poached lemon slices that cooked with the fish.
Beets and rice: why not beet risotto? Once I thought of it, I could almost taste the earthy sweetness of beets in a creamy risotto, laced generously with Parmesan cheese and fresh thyme. I had to make it.
Luckily, there were beets in my last Full Circle Farm CSA box. I had previously roasted the beets to concentrate their flavor, which simplified the task of making beet risotto.
I paired the risotto with Pacific halibut poached in olive oil, known around my house as Halibut Confit. The recipe originally came from Gourmet Magazine; I remember Ruth Reichl writing it was one of her much-loved dishes. It is definitely my favorite way to cook halibut that’s been frozen.
Even when fresh, halibut can be dry; freezing makes this problem worse. However, when previously frozen halibut is cooked while submerged in olive oil, it stays moist - so long as you don't overcook it. This is because its juices can’t evaporate into the air, and stay in the fish under the protective coating of olive oil. Although the recipe uses a lot of olive oil, the fish doesn’t absorb the oil, and is not at all oily.
To avoid waste, I always strain the lemony oil and reuse it. Surprisingly, the oil doesn’t take up the flavor of the fish. The flavored oil makes wonderful salad dressing, and can be used in any dish that benefits from lemon.
The result was better than I imagined. Every bite contained flavor bursts that excited my taste buds. The capers were so good with the beet risotto I returned to the kitchen and spooned extra capers and parsley out of the olive oil.
The dishes pair amazingly well; each compliments and improves the other. However, the two don’t need to be served together to taste wonderful.
Roasted Beet and Thyme Risotto would be good served with a salad for a light supper, or as an accompaniment to chicken or turkey. Halibut Confit is an excellent way to cook halibut, no matter what side dishes are served with it. It’s been on my permanent recipe rotation since it first appeared in Gourmet, seven years ago.
Roasted Beet and Thyme Risotto (Παντζάρια Ριζότο με Θυμάρι)
Fresh thyme is an integral part of this dish, and is worth seeking out.
7 – 8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups diced onion, 1/4” dice
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups roasted and grated beets (2 medium beets) (see Note below)
1/4 cup minced fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring the stock to a simmer, or heat it in the microwave until it is warm.
Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until it softens and begins to turn golden. Stir in the rice so it is completely coated with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, and stir until it is almost absorbed. Stir in the grated beets.
Add 1/2 cup of stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock is almost absorbed. Keep adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until each addition of stock is almost absorbed. When the rice is half done, stir in the thyme. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point, and finished right before serving. If you are going to make it ahead, after you take the rice off the burner, stir it until it cools down.)
Continue adding stock and stirring until the rice is tender, but still firm in the center (this takes 18 – 22 minutes). There may be stock left over. Stir in the cheese. Add stock until the risotto is the consistency you desire; it should be moist and creamy, not dry. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
NOTE on Roasting Beets: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the beets, cut off the greens leaving an inch of stem (don't cut into the beet itself), rub the beets with olive oil, and wrap tightly in a foil packet (or place in a tightly covered baking dish). Bake for 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the beets and how fresh they are. The beets are done when they're tender if poked with a knife or skewer. Let the beets cool, and slip off their skins (I wear gloves when I do this to protect my hands from staining). (These can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about a week.)
Halibut Confit with Lemons and Capers (Ψάρια Κονφί με Λεμόνι και Κάπαρης)
Serves 4 - 6
Adapted from March 2000 Gourmet magazine
Because it is cooked at such a low temperature, the olive oil can be reused. It picks up the flavor of lemons, but not of fish.
2 pounds halibut fillets, skinned
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup capers, 1/4 c. roughly chopped and 1/4 c. left whole
1/2 cup minced parsley
2-3 lemons, sliced 1/8” thick
1 1/2 – 2 1/2 cups olive oil
Preheat oven to 250°F.
Wash and dry the halibut. Season it on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Using a glass baking dish just large enough to hold the halibut, line the bottom with lemon slices. Put the fish on top of the lemon slices. Mix the capers and parsley together, and spread evenly on top of the halibut. Cover the fish and herbs with a layer of lemon slices. Pour enough olive oil over to completely cover everything.
Bake for 45 to 70 minutes depending on the thickness of the halibut fillets. After 45 minutes, remove the pan of fish from the oven, carefully lift up a few lemons, and test for doneness. The fish will flake easily if it is done. If the fish isn’t done, return it to the oven. Halibut is dry when overcooked, so be careful not to leave it in the oven for too long. Remember the oil is hot and cools down slowly, so the fish will continue to cook if you leave it in the oil, even after the pan is taken out of the oven.
Serve the halibut with some of the capers and parsley in oil spooned over the top and slices of the lemon that cooked with the fish on the side.
To serve, I spread the beet risotto on plates, and topped each serving with a chunk of tender halibut. I spooned capers and parsley over the fish, and garnished the plates with the oil-poached lemon slices that cooked with the fish.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Anna from Anna's Cool Finds.