This scrumptious fall risotto—perfect in October, just after the walnuts are harvested—resembles the gorgeous hunter's moon, which rises huge and orange over the Valley of the Moon. If you cannot find golden beets (be sure to check your local farmers' market), you can use red beets, but be careful: their juices will stain everything from your fingertips to your cutting board.
Wine recommendations: Clos du Bois Alexander Valley Reserve Chardonnay; Peter Michael Mon Plaisir Chardonnay; Schug Carneros Estate Pinot Noir.
4 small or 3 medium golden beets
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, white and palest green parts only, trimmed, thoroughly cleaned, and cut into very thin rounds
Black pepper in a mill
1 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
5 cups chicken broth, hot
2 ounces (1/2 cup) Laura Chenel's Tome, Bellwether San Andreas, or aged
3/4 cup shelled walnuts, toasted and diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
First, prepare the beets. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash the beets, place them in a small ovenproof pan or baking dish, toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the beets are tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 to 60 minutes, depending on their size. Remove from the oven, cool to room temperature, cut into small dice, and set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the risotto, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter together in a large sauté pan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the leeks and sauté until they are completely wilted, about 10 minutes. Season with a generous pinch or two of salt and several turns of black pepper, add the rice, and stir with a wooden spoon until each grain begins to turn milky white, about 3 minutes. Keep the stock warm in a pot over low heat. Add the stock half a cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is tender, about 18 to 20 minutes. Before the last addition of stock, stir in the beets and grated cheese, taste, correct the seasoning, and stir in the last of the liquid. Divide the risotto among individual soup plates, top each portion with some of the walnuts and some of the Italian parsley, grind black pepper over it all, and serve immediately.