Beets get a bad rap, though I’m not sure where it comes from. Perhaps it’s a hold-over from the days when the only variety available were canned, leaving them mushy, salty and bland. To me, they are a perfect balance of firm, refreshing texture with a sweet, earthy flavor. Best of all, they are nutritious, so I feel downright virtuous when I consume a bowlful like candy.
Last week, beets appeared at the market. They were shamefully small, and I couldn’t imagine there’d be much left after peeling. As much as I love beets, it seemed the farmers were rushing the process.
This week, however, they were decidedly larger. With the greens still attached I know they are freshly harvested -- beets that have been in storage have the tops cut off as they wither in a few days. Like tomatoes, beets come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes – candy striped with white rings, golden, pink and red. They range in sweetness, the red sometimes cloying by comparison to the lighter colors.
Roasting beets intensifies the flavors and the sweetness. It also makes peeling easier. Before roasting, be sure to scrub the beets well to remove all the dirt. Toss them in some olive oil, wrap in foil, and bake in a 350 oven for an hour or so.
Lately, my favorite preparation has been roasted with bacon and onions. While the beets are roasting, I sauté bacon and onions together until the bacon is crisp and the onions are caramelized. When the beets are cooked, I peel and slice them and toss them in the bacon-onion mix. Seasoned with a little lemon juice or mint, they are the perfect accompaniment to salmon (Crusted with pistachios and horseradish) or a pasta carbonara with peas or asparagus. Pureed with a little olive oil or chicken stock, it makes a delightful sauce for just about anything.
Beets with goat cheese are a classic combination. The tart, creaminess of the cheese balances with the sweet, firm texture of the beets. Though, I don’t eat nuts, walnuts add both texture and flavor that some say is the perfect compliment.Of course, beets stain exceptionally well – hands, cutting boards and clothing. The best remedy is to wash with a paste of cold water and baking soda. Not only does it remove the red from your hands, it leaves them soft as well.
Beets and Goat Cheese Napolean with Buttered Walnuts
1 lb. red beets
2 tbs. olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
1 tbs. red wine vinegar
1-2 tbs. fresh chopped thyme
4 oz. creamy goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1. Put beets in a pot and cover in cold water. Season water with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for 30 minutes, or until skins easily peel off.
2. When beets are cooked, cool under cold running water. Peel beets. Slice. Toss beets with red onions, vinegar, olive oil and thyme.
3. Put beets on a plate, and dollop goat cheese on top. Garnish with mesclun and buttered walnuts
1 pound mesclun
3 tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. shallots
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. mustard
½ cup + extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Put balsamic, shallots, thyme and mustard in a blender. Puree. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar
1 cup walnuts
2 or more tbs. butter
salt and pepper
Melt butter in skillet. Toss in walnuts and toast until lightly browned and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper.