Risottos have a tricky reputation, but they are actually very straightforward. You do need to put in the arm work, though, stirring continuously as the rice cooks. Beetroot is a wonderful root vegetable so please don’t let childhood memories of the acidic pickled stuff put you off. It has a lovely sweet, earthy flavour and will stain the risotto a glorious purple colour. A perfect dish for non-meat eaters (don’t forget, vegetarian Parmesan is readily available).
    1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Place the beetroot in a roasting tin, toss with a good glug of olive oil, the sugar, salt and pepper and the balsamic vinegar. Roast for 30 minutes, then add a dash of balsamic, stir and cook for a further 10 minutes, until tender.
    2. 2. Meanwhile make the risotto. Place a wide heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add a glug of olive oil. When hot, add the shallots and garlic, season with salt and pepper and sauté gently until softened but not browning. Stir in the thyme, then pour in the rice and stir until the grains begin to change colour.
    3. 3. Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up the bits from the bottom. Continue stirring for 2–3 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the wine. Add a ladleful of hot stock and stir until absorbed. Repeat this process until you the rice is just cooked and has a rich, creamy consistency.
    4. 4. Add two-thirds of the tender beetroot chunks to the risotto and stir through.
    5. 5. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and three-quarters of the Parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. To serve, dot with the remaining beetroot, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and drizzle with a little olive oil.
    1. The key is not to flood the rice with the stock, adding it a little at a time so that you are in control. The final addition of butter and parmesan – the mantecato as the Italians call it – is another essential part of the process. Add them both, give the risotto a gentle stir and put the lid back on for a few minutes to allow the rice to absorb the rich flavours.