8 & $20: Beet Risotto with Herbed Chicken Tenders

This colorful dish lends itself to weeknight dinners, parties and a range of wine pairings
8 & $20: Beet Risotto with Herbed Chicken Tenders
Beets add festive color to risotto with herbed chicken tenders. (Greg Hudson)
Sep 22, 2015

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

On a recent evening, I found myself in a celebratory mood and was chatting with a friend on the phone, debating what we should do. Soon enough, I had volunteered to host an impromptu dinner party.

No sweat. Risotto to the rescue.

You might assume that risotto is labor-intensive, requiring attention and constant stirring, but actually the work is pretty low-stress, most of it can be done ahead of time and it quite easily feeds a large group.

The beets in this version turn the rice a beautiful bright pink color, which makes for a dramatic presentation. For the protein, I opted for chicken tenders, because they are easily portioned and cook quickly, allowing me to spend more time with my guests. Additionally, since the risotto is on the richer side, the lean, simply prepared chicken provides a nice counterbalance.

I roasted the beets while I cleaned up and got dressed. If you don't need that block of time for other preparations (or to get the beets’ pink dye out of your fingers), you could cut the total cooking time by starting on the risotto while the beets are in the oven. Also, you can free yourself up for time with your guests by prepping the risotto in advance, cooking it to the point where it is just a bit underdone. Once it's time for the meal, add a bit more liquid, along with the herbs, and heat until it's ready.

I chose three wines to try with this dish and asked my guests—a mix of wine newbies and wine-savvy individuals—to weigh in. When I’ve made this dish in the past, I’ve had success pairing cru Beaujolais with it. On this occasion, however, I didn't have any on hand, so I looked for wines with a similar body and balance of fruit, earth and herbal characteristics.

A Pinot Noir, in this case a Pinot Nero from northern Italy's Alto Adige region, seemed like an easy swap. For another refreshing option, I chose a rosé from Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France. As a bit of a wildcard, I picked a Chilean Carmenère, even though I feared it might easily overpower the risotto if it were too rich.

The Pinot Nero, very nice on its own, was fine when tasted with the food—neither bad, nor good, just fine. As one of my guests put it, “They just didn’t dance together.” The rosé performed exactly as expected: Lovely and refreshing, it made for a solid match. The Carmenère, however, proved to be the dark horse of the group. This version had plenty of velvety fruit, but was medium-bodied and had refreshing acidity. One by one, the votes were cast in its favor for a unanimous victory.

Beet Risotto with Herbed Chicken Tenders

Pair with a medium-bodied Carmenère such as Viña Maipo Carmenère Rapel Valley Vitral Reserva 2013 (88 points,$15). For a lighter alternative, try a dry rosé such as Domaines Listel Sable de Camargue Rosé Domaine de Jarras Pink Flamingo Tête de Cuvée 2014 (88 points, $14).

Prep time: 15 minutes
Approximate cooking time: 80 minutes
Active cooking time: 45 minutes

Approximate food costs: $30

  • 10 medium beets, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 5-6 sprigs of thyme—2 whole sprigs, the rest picked
  • 18-20 sage leaves—1 tablespoon chopped, the rest whole
  • 18-20 chicken tenders
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

1. Preheat oven to 400° F.

2. Toss the beets in olive oil and season with salt. Place in a greased baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and put in the oven. Roast for 35 minutes or until tender. Once done, set aside and keep warm.

3. In a pot or pan with a large rim, sweat the diced shallot over medium heat in a small amount of olive oil with a couple of sprigs of thyme until the shallot is translucent. Add the arborio rice and toss well to combine and coat. Add just enough chicken stock to cover the rice and allow the liquid to be absorbed, stirring often. Keep adding more liquid (3/4 cup to 1 cup at a time) once it is absorbed, continuing to stir often. (NOTE: The total amount of liquid added to the rice may vary. The goal is rice that is cooked through and strikes a balance between being slightly firm yet creamy.) Remove the sprigs of thyme.

4. Dice three of the beets (or 12 quarters) into small pieces. Once the rice is nearly al dente, stir in about 2 ounces of goat cheese (reserve the rest). Add the diced beets as soon as the goat cheese is incorporated. Add more chicken stock (or water, if needed), and allow the rice to finish cooking during the next step, continuing to stir often.

5. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large pan. Working in batches, fry the sage leaves for a few seconds until crisp. Set the fried leaves aside. Working in batches, add the chicken tenders to the infused olive oil and cook until done, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

6. Once the risotto is just tender, stir in the chopped sage and the picked thyme. Adjust the liquid and seasoning to taste.

7. To serve, top each portion of risotto with a dollop of goat cheese, beet quarters and about 3 chicken tenders. Crumble the crispy sage leaves and sprinkle on top of each plate. Serves 6, with generous portions

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