Sunday, August 06, 2006

Eat To the Beet

I’ve been on the lookout for beets for the past couple of weeks, as they’ve been elusive in the local grocery store. I am a sucker for any combination of beets and goat cheese that I find on restaurant menus, and I’ve been itching to try my own hand at some beet-centric dishes. This photo is evidence that I found beets at last, but the best news is that Mike finally set foot on Florida soil on Friday after spending two long weeks in Canada. After all the restaurant meals, fast food and takeout he had (accompanied by one case of minor food poisoning), he would just as soon have eaten homemade rice and beans all weekend than set foot in a restaurant. Thrilled to have him back to cook and eat with me, I had better plans—beet plans.

The beets caught my eye during a quick run to Whole Foods Market on my Thursday lunch hour. I went in mainly for vitamins, but can never resist cruising around the store to see what looks good. I stepped through the automatic doors into the produce section and there they were: golden beets stacked two feet high, coated with moist dirt and with their fresh, leafy greens in tact. To me, this honey-yellow variety tastes summery and less beet-like than its red cousin. If I remember right, I did a little hop and exclaimed, “golden beets!” I immediately started foraging for the most vibrant looking bulbs with the crispest green tops. I stopped to glance down the wall of produce and saw an even larger display of red beets a little ways away. I bagged one bunch of each and skipped off in search of goat cheese. I was ready to welcome my husband home with a beet-tastic weekend.

The most daunting thing about beets is cleaning them. Otherwise, they’re easy. You can boil or steam them, but roasting seems the least labor-intensive to me. If you have a particularly earthy bunch of beets like mine, give the whole thing a rinse to do away with the dirt clumps. Cut the stalks off, leaving about an inch on each of the beets to prevent the juice of the red ones from staining everything in its path. Then rinse and scrub each beet and wash and save the greens. You can sauté the greens as you would spinach or Swiss chard or add them to a pasta dish like I did. Once you roast the beets, you can trim off the stalk and the bottom end, slip off the skin and use them to add vibrant color to salad, pasta or anything else you like. I once had them tossed with a seasoned rice vinegar dressing and served with a crisp asian-inspired slaw. They would also be lovely tossed with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper and served as a side dish.

I stretched our beet consumption out over the whole weekend, using them in a salad followed by some deliciously rare tuna steaks with couscous and a tangy lemon-caper dressing on Saturday and in Double Beet Penne on Sunday. I do think beet and goat cheese salad is a bit overdone, but since sheer deliciousness is the reason for that, I don’t mind. Although my standard salad is baby greens, lemon and olive oil, it was fun to go to a bit more trouble for the salad here. You could change it up in so many ways, but do roast and candy your nuts. They are (almost) the best part. If your beets have been roasted ahead of time, the Double Beet Penne comes together in about 20 minutes. The pasta, and everything else, will take on a pinkish cast, so have a theme and open a bottle of rosé to drink. Try to buy beets with plentiful, fresh greens attached, as they add a pleasant bitterness that is well-matched with a squeeze of lemon. I supplement them with Swiss chard, but you can use all chard if you don’t have nice beet greens. It’s not as if Mike couldn’t eat beets in Canada, but I like to think my homemade Florida beet creations were a sight for sore stomachs.

Scrubbed beets, ready to roast.

Making the candied walnuts. Most of the sugar will stick to your spoon, leaving the nuts with a light, sweet coating.

Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 2
Although you only need two beets for this salad, roast a whole bunch or two and use them in other dishes. You can fit 2 or 3 beets in one foil packet. Be sure to separate the different colors, so your golden beets don’t turn pinky-brown from the red dye.

1 golden beet, trimmed and scrubbed
1 red beet, trimmed and scrubbed
olive oil
4 cups baby greens
1 orange, peeled and cut into sections
3 tblsp. walnuts, chopped into large pieces
½ tblsp. butter
2 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
additional salt and fresh ground pepper
lemon vinaigrette, recipe below
2-3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Lemon Vinaigrette:
2½ tbslp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp. lemon juice
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine; or, whisk together in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 425. Place each beet on a square of foil, sprinkle with olive oil and seal into two tight packets. Roast on a baking sheet for 1 hour. Remove the beets from the foil and, when cool enough to handle, trim off the ends and slip the skins off with your fingers. Chop into bite-size pieces and set aside separately so colors do not bleed together.

Heat a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the butter, sugar and salt, stirring constantly to combine. Add the walnuts, stirring frequently until the sugar caramelizes. Everything will be very sticky, and you will probably have clumps of sugar left in the pan, but that is okay. I also roasted my walnuts in the oven first, but this is not necessary unless you like very toasty nuts. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the greens, orange sections, candied walnuts and roasted beets. Season to taste with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Lastly, add the goat cheese and give the salad one last gentle toss. Serve immediately.

Tuna Steaks with Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette
Serves 2
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, July 2006
I served this tuna with plain, salted whole wheat couscous, drizzled with the vinaigrette as well.

For Vinaigrette:
3 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. dijon or spicy mustard
1 tblsp. capers
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine; or, whisk together in a bowl.

For Tuna:
Olive oil
2 tuna steaks, about 6oz. each
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tblsp. chopped parsley

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the tuna steaks with salt and pepper. Add the fish to the skillet and cook until the bottom is lightly browned and the tuna is opaque about ¼ inch from the bottom. Flip and cook the opposite side in the same fashion. If you want your fish more done, cook on medium to the point that you like. The lower heat will help them cook through without becoming too dark on the outside. Drizzle all over with the Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Double Beet Penne
Serves 2 generously

8 oz. whole wheat or regular penne pasta
2 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
6 cups loosely packed greens (any combination of beet greens, swiss chard and spinach), trimmed and chopped
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
2 yellow and 2 red beets, roasted (see beet salad recipe for roasting method), halved lengthwise and chopped
zest of 1 lemon and juice of half
½ to ¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Meanwhile, toss the chopped beets with salt and pepper and 1 tblsp. of the oil. Heat the remaining tblsp. of oil to medium-low in a nonstick skillet. Add the greens, season with salt and pepper and cook until just wilting. Add the beets to the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Squeeze the lemon juice over the mixture and remove from heat.

Drain the pasta in a colander and immediately return it to the pot. Add the greens and beet mixture, the lemon zest and the feta. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

Picking over the beet greens.

The beets heat up with the sautéed greens and a touch of lemon.

It's like wearing rose-colored glasses.


christine said...

Oh my! There are so many wonderful recipes in this one post. You were truly inspired by your husband's return, weren't you? I know what it's like to just cook for yourself for a while then go into a frenzy when your significant other has arrived back home. Well done! I'll be trying all of these recipes.

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