Garden Beets

As I have gotten older and grew into a foodie I was shocked to learn the passion I had for beets. I mean they are not too common in the Italian cooking I grew up with. The ones that I have encountered were always canned. Yes, canned! And in my opinion they always tasted like not much else then a can itself. But to my surprise they are fantastic when they are fresh and you can have your culinary creativeness with them.

I feel the beet is fantastic because it is a unique gift that nature has given to us. It possesses an earthy sweetness, and is great in any number of ways that you can cook it, not to mention the variety of jeweled toned colors that they come in. Yes, there are more than the intense ruby that you usually find in the market. They range from a brilliant yellow, a deep orange, and even what is known as a stripped beet or "candy cane" that is called the Chioggia. Some say that the Chioggia that is the most sweet of all the beets, but I find them all equally wonderful. The leaves of the beet are completely edible too and when very young are great in a salad. When they are more mature they are great cooked in any of the same ways you would use any other green (i.e. spinach or swiss chard).

Over time I have found a number of different ways to make and use beets in recipes. I have put them into risotto, stews, soups, and curries. I have roasted them, grilled them, thinly sliced and name it. I love the versatility of them. So you can imagine my happiness when my husband came back from the farmer's market this week (I had to work!) with a bunch of small beets that I could not wait to have my way with! I thought I should use them in my most favorite way and I will share it with you. I hope that if you are  not already a fan that this can persuade you otherwise.

Roasted Baby Beet Salad  (serves at least 4) **recipe for Beet Greens to follow.

1 bunch of baby Beets (Trimmed with 1 inch of stem left on and cleaned)

Fresh Goat Cheese (about 3 oz worth)

1/2 cup of Hazelnuts   (Roasted and chopped)

Olive Oil

1 Orange (Navel), zested and juiced

1 - 2 tbsp of Vinegar (Red Wine or Champagne)

1 small Shallot, minced

1 tsp of Dijon Mustard

1/4 tsp of dried Thyme

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 bag of Salad Greens or 1 small head of lettuce, washed and trimmed (if using)

1 - 1 1/2 cups of Barley, Quinoa, or other grain - cooked and cooled (if using)

First, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the beets (skin on) in enough olive oil to coat. Place them in a baking dish and roast in the oven for approximately 45 minutes. (This ensures that the natural sweetness and nutrients stay within the beet.) While the beets are roasting you can start your dressing. In a bowl place 1/4 cup of olive oil, the zest & juice of one orange, vinegar, the minced shallot, mustard, thyme, and your Salt & Pepper. Whisk it together and place in the refrigerator to let the flavors of the dressing blend.

Next, when your beats are done (to test doneness: a knife should go through your beet easily, like a baked potato when done) let them cool until they are able to be handled (at least 15 - 20 minutes). When cool you will need to peel off the skins and slice off the stems that are still attached. I like to peel the skins with a paper towel in hand. The beets leach their color and can be slippery because of the olive oil coating. I like to slice them in 1/2 depending on their size, place them in a clean bowl and  drizzle a bit of the dressing to slightly marinate the beets.

Finally, assemble the salad. If using salad greens or a grain (Barley, Quinoa, or other) I toss it with enough dressing to coat and salt and pepper to taste. (As seen in the photo above, I chose to serve it with Barley.)  I divide it among the plates and then top it with the dressed beets. Sprinkle with the goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts.  The remainder of the dressing I always serve on the side in case anyone feels they need more.

Beet Greens with Garlic and Bacon (serves 2)

1 bunch of Beet Greens, trimmed and rinsed well

3 slices of Bacon ( Being a vegetarian I use Tempeh Bacon)

2 cloves of Garlic, sliced

Olive Oil

Black Pepper to taste, freshly ground

First, in a medium to large saute pan render your bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove from pan and let drain on a paper plate lined with a paper towel.

Next, saute your garlic in the rendered fat from the bacon (if you did not get enough fat from the rendering you can add a bit of olive oil to your sauteing). when the garlic becomes fragrant add in your beet greens and toss to distribute the garlic and to cook evenly. Sprinkle with the freshly ground Black Pepper to taste.

Finally, chop or crumble your bacon and toss it into your Beet Greens. Serve while still warm.

NOTE: I use the Tempeh Bacon because I am a vegetarian and no fat renders from it. In that case drizzle in a hot saute pan about 2 - 3 tbsp of Olive Oil to cook it in. It is only a matter of minutes before it is crispy on both sides. Then you will continue with the recipe as listed above.