Sunday, January 27, 2008

I used to hate beets

I hated beets because they were sweetly insipid or else harshly pickled. And under that sometimes I could taste that metallic tang that can also happen with chard stems if they aren't properly cooked.

But now I know better, and beets are a local-eating favorite. In the winter especially they brighten the table with their ruby (or golden) glow. The basic secret is to bake them, not boil them. The only problem with that is that it takes so long, especially with the big guys that keep so well. You can microwave them at about 10 minutes per biggish beet, but then you lose the touch of carmelization that makes them so wonderful when baked. If I'm short on time I split the difference. I'll put maybe four beets in the microwave for 10 minutes and then transfer them to a 375 degree oven--whole, unpeeled--on a cookie tray covered with olive-oiled baker's parchment (you can get it unbleached at the Food Co-op, and put it in the food waste toter along with the compost if you have pickup). Sometime a roast a head of garlic at the same time.

I start checking after 45 minutes and bring them out when they are tender but before they get squishy. Let them rest a few minutes, and then peel and cube. They can be served warm, but I prefer a room temperature salad with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped toasted hazelnuts, and some crumbled salty cheese. I like feta best. For a local option, a crumbly goat cheese is a good choice. It needs to be an assertive flavor, or the beets will just overpower it, even if you don't add some chopped garlic. A bit of overwintered parsley or some corn salad leaves make a nice visual.

No comments: