Whether he’s cooking with insects as an alternative protein source, or saving natives by eating invasive species, Ben McMenamin has been using food to start crucial conversations for years. As the founder of the Social Food Project, Ben loves to craft inventive and delicious recipes that help us eat our way to a sustainable future. In this recipe, he makes a delicious risotto that will help you minimise your food waste by using up some of those bottom-of-the-crisper veggies and back-of-the-pantry grains.
“This zero-waste recipe is great for pulling out when you want to impress your guests with delicious food and some interesting food tricks. The earthy flavour of the beetroot is balanced by the zingy red wine reduction, pickled beetroot stems and well-rounded umami stock. You can swap out any number of vegetables for the stock and use any starchy grain as the base of the risotto – making it great for using up leftovers you have kicking around at home. There are four main steps to this dish – making the umami stock, cooking the beetroots, making the red wine reduction and cooking the risotto.”
The first thing to do it make the umami stock – this will take a few hours so get this on nice and early. Take your 3 cups of miscellaneous vegetables, onion and garlic, and slice them thinly with a knife or mandolin. You can use any vegetables, including cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, celery etc. Once sliced, place them into a bowl and mix in the tomato paste and the kombu, making sure everything is evenly coated. Place them onto a deep roasting tray and bake in the oven at 160oC for 60 minutes, mixing every 15 minutes, until it is dark and caramelised. Add 6 cups of water and corn flour into the roasting tray and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, strain through a sieve into a saucepan, and reserve for later.
Next you want to cook the beetroots. Cut off the leaves, pick through and keep any young- or nice-looking leaves. The small leaves baby leaves are the best. Take the stems and cut into 1cm lengths, rinse and reserve. Wash the baby beets, then put into a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a pinch of salt. Cook on the stovetop on a low-medium heat for approximately 45 minutes until the beets are nice and tender. Leave the beetroots to fully cool down in the liquid – this will help them to maintain their bright colour and flavour. Once cool, peel the beets by simply rubbing off the skin with your hands. Cut the baby beets into chunky wedges.
Heat the red wine, red wine vinegar and sugar in a saucepan on a medium heat for approximately 30 minutes. You want to reduce this liquid down to about 1 cup. The sugar will start to thicken the mixture. When it looks nice and glossy, drop in the beetroot stems that you cut before and remove from the heat. When the mixture is fully cooled, the beetroot stems will be pickled.
Now it’s time to cook the risotto. Heat your umami stock back up on the stovetop. In another pot, sweat down the diced shallots in the olive oil until soft. Add the cooked brown rice and stir through. Slowly add one ladle at a time of the umami stock into the brown rice, cooking until the stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock until the brown rice is fully cooked through and the sauce has started to thicken. Add the beetroot chunks and 50g of the grated parmesan cheese. Remove from the heat and stir thoroughly – the cheese will thicken the sauce and turn it into a beautiful risotto. Pour out into a bowl or plate. Now garnish with the pickled beetroot stem, a splash of the red wine reduction, garnish with the fresh beetroot leaves and finally sprinkle over the remaining parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Thank you Ben from Social Food Project for sharing this recipe with us, and thank you to illustrator Kyle for the wonderful images. If you would like to see more of Kyle’s illustrations follow her on Instagram or check out her website. This recipe is produced in partnership with Knowledge Melbourne, as part of a series of workshops hosted by City of Melbourne online over the months of June and July.