Beet-root Pesto and Beet-leaf Pesto

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As one who loves beets, I have yet to find something made with beets that I don’t like. Raw beet salad, roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich, borscht, pickled beets (a favorite), beet ice-cream, savory beet tart, sweet beet tart (see Bar Tartine, by Courtney Burns and Nicolaus Balla), and, of course (thank you Nigel Slater) beet and chocolate cake – yep, over here, please!

It’s possible that this love for beetroots goes back a long time…. As kids, when we had a cold/sore throat, my mother would thinly slice beet root, layer them with sugar, let them sit until the sugar dissolved and the beets released their juice and give us spoonfuls of the most delicious medicine one can imagine. Cold, unctuous, sweet, and beet-y. In fact, something good enough to feign a cough! Totally unlike cod liver oil!

And although homemade kvass has not been a success (it got to be pretty sticky and literally oozed out of the jar), I have not yet given up on that.

Yet, beet seems to be one of those polarizing flavors – one loves them or hates them. Over several trials and error (and the desire to serve beetroot as hors d’oeuvre without a mess), I came up with a recipe that many people who told me they don’t like beets have enjoyed: Beet root pesto (no cheese).

Because I don’t like waste, if the beet leaves are good looking, there’s another pesto recipe: beet leaf pesto (withe cheese), that’s really fast and simple to make with a food processor. Use it like any herb pesto: as a dip, a topping for pizza, smeared on pita, tossed with pasta or warm potatoes or ribbons of summer squash, in the dough for gnocchi, layered in lasagna or vegetable casserole, stir a spoonful into a soup… etc. Also as with herb pesto, it freezes well : use an ice-cube tray, a mini-muffin tin pan, or drop spoonful on a baking sheet, freeze until hard, then drop the pesto chunks in a bag or box. Label… obviously. Trust me: date and label!

Both are perfect for casual entertaining as you can make the components ahead and assemble the crostinis up to 1 hour before serving.

 

Yes, pickled beets are a favorite ... but beet-root pesto is faster.

Yes, pickled beets are a favorite … but beet-root pesto is faster.

Beet Root Pesto & Goat Cheese Crostini

The recipe makes more than needed for just the crostini so I provide suggestions for the extra. You may substitute any soft cheese you’d like (including ricotta) but for me, in the Northern Virginia Piedmont, Caromont’s chevre is perfect. Seek what’s available in your area.

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MAKES 24 crostinis and left-over pesto

  • 1 bunch red beets, leaves removed and saved for another use (for example beet leaf pesto!)
  • ¼ cup olive oil + more to finish the pesto
  • 2 whole plump garlic gloves, peeled
  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 whole plump garlic clove, chopped (optional)
  • 1 lemon (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 artisan baguette
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or melted lard from a pastured pig
  • 1 or 2 garlic clove (depending on size and your love of garlic)
  • 4 ounces local soft goat cheese (plain)
  • Garnish (optional) such as a few edible flower petals or thyme leaves

Make the beet root pesto

Peel and cut beets in 1” cubes (yes that will stain your hands, but you can scrub the stains away)

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a thick-bottom saucepan. Add beets and 2 of the garlic cloves. Simmer on very low heat with the lid on until the beets are tender – 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Put beets, garlic and all accumulated pan juice and oil in a food processor along with the almonds and the raw chopped garlic clove if using. Process until smooth. Add more oil as needed. Taste: add a squeeze of lemon juice as needed and salt to taste. Pulse. Scrape content into a bowl.

This can be made several days ahead, refrigerated and taken out of the fridge an hour before assembling the crostinis

Make the crostinis

While the beets are cooking, slice the baguette on the diagonal to have at least 24 slices (i.e. 3 per person). Brush both sides of the slices with the olive oil (or melted lard) and bake in a preheated 400F oven, until the slices are golden on both sides. In my oven that’s about 7-10 minutes each side, turning the slices over once… but it can take a lot less or a lot more so watch and adjust. Let cool until you can comfortably handle and rub one side with the garlic clove. This can be made up to 24 hours ahead, kept in an airtight container.

Assemble the crostinis

Spread a layer of goat cheese on the crostini (how much depends on your taste). Put a dollop of pesto on top. Garnish as desired. Serve!

Use remaining pesto as a dip, a sandwich spread or toss with pasta for the most shockingly pink pasta!

Beet Leaf Pesto

Don’t throw out the beet leaves if they look good. Sure, you can cook them, but beet leaf pesto is faster and will stretch more. Cooked beet leaves just melt away……

Strip the good beet leaves from the stems. Discard stems and bad leaves. Roughly chop leaves.

In the food processor, put chopped leaves, a handful of nuts of your choice (I like walnut) or seeds (sunflowers or pepitas), a chopped plump clove of garlic or two, freshly grated parmesan or other hard cheese to taste, a pinch of salt, a slug of EVOO. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the side of the bowls and add more olive oil as needed.

Will store in the fridge for at least a week. Freeze in small quantities if needed.

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