cucina bene; mangia bene (where’s the beet?)
I love beets! Yes, it’s true. Bruce once gave me a bouquet of various types of beets and greens from the farmers’ market as an anniversary gift; I was very happy. Beets originated in the Mediterranean and are thought to have been cultivated since the second millennium BC. Beets were, at that time, mostly cultivated for the greens while the root was used for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the root was brought into mainstream cuisine by the French. Most beets today are canned or grown for sugar or animal feed. The beets that you find at the grocery store are huge, old, and practically tasteless so no wonder most people don’t eat them….too much trouble to cook and they don’t really taste that good……
However, beets that you find at the farmers’ markets that still have the greens attached are doubly delicious. Here’s a quick and easy way to make them: take a bunch of beets, remove and wash the greens and set aside. Wash the beetroots and wrap them whole and unpeeled in foil and bake at 350 F for 40 minutes to an hour or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove the beets and let cool. Meanwhile, tear up the greens into bite sized pieces and put in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and roast for 30 to 40 minutes in the same oven at 350 F. When the beets are cool enough to hand, peel them, slice into quarters or eighths (depending on size), and toss with a little olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Serve with the greens when they are finished and top with a little goat cheese and chopped walnuts……..you’ve just made a delicious and nutritious salad with a bunch of beets! Keep in mind that if the greens are not good on the bunch of beets, you can substitute with Swiss Chard (silverbeet) or anther leafy green.
Beets are full of antioxidants in both the greens and the root, which is why it’s very important to buy beets with the greens still attached. Another great way to enjoy beets is in a roasted vegetable medley as in the following recipe:
Beets can also be used for coloring purposes such as in soups, risottos, and pasta. The beets turn these dishes (along with your hands, countertop, cutting board, etc.…..) a beautiful deep pink or purple color. Jamie Oliver, in his Naked Chef cookbook, has an awesome recipe for beet tagliatelle served with pesto and mussels. The color combo is as fantastic as the flavor.
Of course there are the more famous dishes with beets such as borscht which is an Eastern European soup made with beets. My mother’s family was Polish and we would eat mostly pickled (canned) beets served plain or with sour cream and dill. My mom would save the juice and make pickled hardboiled eggs from it…..they were pretty with pink whites and the the yellow yolk.
It’s easy to make your own pickled beets with the following recipe (this does not use a pressure cooker or water bath so the beets need to be eaten with a weeks time; they are so good you’ll find all kinds of uses for them I’m sure).
1/3 cup vinegar (I like to use Champagne or Apple Cider)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 cups sliced, cooked beets
Combine all ingredients except beets in a saucepan and bring to boil. Add beets and return to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, and refrigerate for 8 hours before serving. Keep in a covered glass container in the refrigerator.
I like my pickled beets a little hot, so I add a small pinch of habanero flakes to the mix. Habanero is a very sweet (and hot) chile and the flavor goes really well with the earthy taste of the beets.
I hope these recipes have inspired you to try or to eat more beets…time for me to go make some pickled beets for myself! Buon Appetito!