Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brooke Dojny: Beautiful Beets

Beets meet with a salad of peppery arugula. Plus, a beet quick pickle how-to!

Red Ace. Bull’s Blood. Touchstone Gold. Early Wonder. Candy. Seed companies must have such fun naming vegetable and fruit seeds, and the adjectives and nouns for the many varieties of beets seem particularly descriptive. On a visit a few days ago to my CSA farm stand, beets of many colors — red, purple, yellow, striped — were bundled together and piled in a glorious heap, their shiny leaves still glistening with moisture. I bought four bunches.
Sometimes the labor involved in cooking and peeling beets can feel onerous, but I’ve learned to just add the cooking to a supper preparation. The whole cooked beets can then be refrigerated for up to three days, until you’re ready to use them. Wrapping beets in foil and roasting them for about an hour enhances and deepens their sweet flavor, but if you’re short on time, a simple steaming in an inch or so of salted water for about 20 minutes works beautifully, too. I view the beet cook’s red-stained fingers as a kind of badge of honor, but they’re easily scrubbed clean with a good stiff nail brush.

And the greens are pure bonus. Eminently edible, beet greens and are among the most intensely flavored, earthy, and pleasantly minerally of all cooking leaves. Chop the clean leaves and steam them or – even better – stir-fry the still-damp greens in a little olive oil with minced garlic until tender. Serve with a splash of vinegar.

Beets can, of course, be served warm, with butter and lemon or vinegar, but somehow I think their gorgeous color, their sturdiness, and earthy sweetness lends them especially well to sophisticated salad preparations. And simple, old-fashioned pickled beets are always welcome at a summer picnic.

Beet Salad on Arugula with Ricotta Salata 

This salad, which will be part of my new book Chowderland, to be published by Storey in 2015, calls for ricotta salata, which is fresh ricotta that has been pressed, salted, and aged. It’s somewhat similar to salty, nutty feta cheese and, in fact, the two can be used pretty much interchangeably.

4 servings

1 pound trimmed beets (about 8 medium beets)
1 small garlic clove
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces (3 handfuls) arugula or mesclun mix
4 ounces shaved or crumbled ricotta salata
About ½ cup imported green olives, pitted or not (your choice)

  1. Cook the beets in boiling salted water to cover until tender, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size, or wrap in foil and roast in a 350°F oven for 45 to 60 minutes. When cool, peel and cut into ½-inch dice.
  2. On a cutting board, coarsely chop the garlic with the salt, then use the flat blade of the knife to mash to a smooth purée. Combine in a bowl with the lemon juice, oil, and pepper, and whisk until smooth. Toss the beets with about 2 tablespoons of the dressing and refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.
  3. Spread the arugula out onto a shallow rimmed platter and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Spread the dressed beets in the center and sprinkle with the cheese. Arrange olives over the top and serve. 

Quick Pickled Beets

Pickled beets are beautiful to look at, delicious to eat, and add a nicely piquant counterpoint to almost any summer meal.

4 servings

1 pound trimmed beets (about 8 medium beets)
Salt for cooking
1 cup distilled white vinegar
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Pinch of allspice
½ cup sliced or diced onion

  1. Cook the beets in boiling salted water to cover until tender, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size. When cool, peel and cut into slices. 
  2. Bring the vinegar, sugar, salt, and allspice to a simmer in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the beets and onion and simmer for 1 minute. Cool and refrigerate for up to two weeks. 

Brooke Dojny is the author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including The New England Clam Shack Cookbook,Dishing Up® Maine, and Lobster! (all Storey Publishing). She won the James Beard Award in 1997 for The AMA Family Cookbook, co-authored with Melanie Barnard.  Brooke started her culinary career in the 1980s when she worked as a catering directress for Martha Stewart. From 1990 to 2004, Brooke co-authored (with Melanie Barnard) Bon Appetit’s monthly “Every-Night Cooking” column. She has written for most of the other major culinary magazines and has been a regular contributor to Down East Magazine. She lives on the coast of Maine, where she can be found hanging out at clam shacks and farmers’ markets. Her next book for Storey is Chowderland, to be published in 2015.

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