Winter Beets

Winter Beets

I like beets. I like them raw, grated or mandolined. I like them cooked. I like them pickled, whether a simple wine-and-vinegar pickle or in relishes (delicious with meat, salmon, or vegetarian burgers, or a mature cheddar). I like beet sorbet. I like them juiced too! I even fold them in chocolate cake (thank you, Nigel Slater), and make pesto. Or whatever you’d call beet puree mixed with nuts, garlic and olive oil. I wrote 2 recipes for beet root pesto and beet leaf pesto a while ago, but recently have made another just as delicious version… maybe even more delicious. Even people who profess to loath beet often like beet pesto.

Beet Relish (and green tomato marmalade)

Beets keep well in cold storage and are easy to find in supermarkets, even in winter, and sometimes the beet greens still look good (cook those! They are delicious too).

So, get yourself some red beet roots, trim them, peel them, slice them as evenly as possible. Yes, do it before coking them, and yes, your hands will stain, but you can scrub that away easily enough. I really prefer to cook the beets without their skin: it’s a sweeter, purer taste at the end. Some people who object to beets don’t mind them at all when they are cooked without the skin on (and are really surprised to find it so). I know that, having served beets to hundreds of people through my catering and personal chef services. The only time when I cook beets with their skin on is at camp, where we are feeding over 100 people and I have lots of kids willing to help peel roasted beets with their hands (also lots of parents not comfortable with their kids using a peeler or a knife… and not nearly enough peelers or knives anyway).

Back to the peeled and sliced beet! Dump them in a generously oiled oven-proof pan, add a couple of cloves of peeled garlic, cover tightly, and roast until done. I always cook them with other things and never by themselves so it’s at whatever temperature the other dish calls for (A mostly empty oven feels wasteful to me) … unless again, it’s camp, and we are cooking 40 lbs of beets (then the ovens are full with all the pans of beets). Or unless I am baking a soufflé… then there is no oven-space sharing: soufflé are selfish that way. Anyway, the hotter the temperature, the faster the beets will cook. The thinner the slices, the faster they will cook. Thirty at 30 minutes at 350F (180C) generally does it for me. Or you can just do it stove top, as described here.

Decide how much beet pesto you want, and transfer all or some of the cooked slices to a food processor – let’s say 2 cups – along with the accumulated pan juice, and a few garlic cloves. Save the rest of the beets (and garlic) – if any – for a salad. You don’t have to wait till the slices cool to process them, hot is fine. Add a good pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of almond butter, and a glug of quality balsamic vinegar (the thicker the better) to the food processor. Blitz until smooth. Taste: add salt, nut butter, or vinegar, as needed to your taste.

I use almond butter because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to find – and less assertive than peanut butter. Use peanut, cashew, hazelnut… the taste will vary of course, but they all work.

Serve with crackers or flat bread or celery sticks; spread it into a sandwich (maybe with some goat cheese, and finely sliced roasted beets); toss it with pasta; serve it as veg, maybe as a little nesting bed for a small steak… the possibilities are endless.

Beet pesto, roasted beets, and goat cheese.

And with the remaining beet slices? Toss them with a few tablespoons of fire-cider and olive oil, and scatter on a bed of winter greens with a few citrus segments, some crumbled goat cheese (or feta, or blue), and maybe some honey-preserved kumquats (or cranberries). Something like that:

Winter salad: radicchio, roasted beets, honey-preserved kumquats, fire cider vinaigrette

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