Last year, I was lucky to be given some saffron, and saffron extract, from Gamila of Beechworth, in Victoria. Grown in small quantities on her farm, it’s only in limited production, of excellent quality, and a joy to use. Saffron always seems exotic, it’s also the world’s most expensive spice, and always painstakingly harvested by hand. It has a subtle flavour and aroma, yet pungent, slightly bitter, and for me a bit like floral honey. A little goes a long way. I love cooking with saffron, and have used it a lot over the years, but have never come across the extract and was particularly intrigued by it. After some experimenting (my husband also came up with a Martini recipe) I decided to use it to finish off a risotto, enhancing the base saffron and yellow beetroot. It was a big hit, and we’ve since enjoyed it several times; whenever I manage to buy yellow beetroot at the markets – much sweeter, with a less earthy taste than the usual red.
Gamila’s products are sold online, or at select farmers’ markets in Victoria. But if you’re unable to find the saffron extract, use a very good extra virgin olive oil (Castagna, also from Beechworth, is my favourite) to finish off the risotto.
4 medium yellow beetroot, or the equivalent of butternut pumpkin
1tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
120g unsalted butter
400g Carnaroli risotto rice
2 decent pinches saffron strands
1 bay leaf
1.5 litres warm chicken stock
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1tbsp finely chopped rosemary
Gamila of Beechworth saffron extract, or extra virgin olive oil
Grated Parmesan to serve
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 160C, wrap 3 beetroot (or pumpkin) in foil, place on a baking tray and bake until tender, about 1.5 hours. Remove from oven, unwrap, and let cool. Remove skin, chop into pieces, puree with ½ cup of the chicken stock and
set aside. Peel the remaining beetroot, cut into thin matchsticks, put into a small bowl and combine with the white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
In a heavy bottomed pan over a low heat, sauté the onion, celery and garlic in 100g of the butter, adding a little salt until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the rice, saffron, bay leaf and a little more salt. Increase the heat a little, and stir until the rice is sizzling and aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add a couple of ladles of stock, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed.
Add another ladle of stock, adjusting the heat if necessary to keep the risotto simmering correctly, and keep stirring. Repeat, until the risotto is just al dente, add ½ cup beetroot puree, lemon zest, rosemary and the remaining 20g butter.
Season with salt and pepper, add a little more stock (the risotto should be a bit soupy), spoon onto a large warm serving dish, drizzle over saffron extract (about 12 drops), scatter the beetroot julienne on top, and serve with grated Parmesan.
If using pumpkin, follow the instructions above for the beetroot, and omit the julienne.