I have mixed feelings about beets. When I was a kid, the only exposure I had to beets were the pickled beets that my mother made for her Swedish Christmas Eve smorgasbord. I can still picture the cut-glass bowl filled with purple-red beets swimming in juice more potent that any dye. I was not a big fan of those beets, although many of our regular Christmas Eve guests loved them. My grandmother also made a fabulous borscht, or so I am told, but I certainly never tried it. Beets were a joke vegetable, right up there with Lima beans as something that no one actually liked.
Well, beets have certainly been rehabilitated. (Not so for Lima beans though, eh?) These days, a salad with roasted beets is such a restaurant cliché that I practically start snoring when I see it on a menu. But the dish persists because it’s delicious and it’s healthy. I have even been known to order such a salad from time to time, although my husband will do so more often than I will. But I almost never bought beets to cook myself. I was seduced once by some gorgeous-looking beets at the Madison, WI farmers’ market during a summertime visit to that nearby state capitol. But that was years ago, and I must have been disappointed by the results because I truly hadn’t bought beets since.
But recently, I have been reading in food blogs and magazines about beet greens. These leafy tops are supposedly the healthiest part of the beet and a quick-cooking, flavorful addition to soups, pastas and egg dishes. I wanted to experiment with them. But, well, you can’t get beet greens without also buying some beets — am I right? Luckily, with June right around the corner, it is beet season once more. This time of year is the best time to find young, small beets which I think are more flavorful — and cook quicker — than those big hulking beets of fall. Plus, if you go to your local farmers’ market, you will not be restricted to the ubiquitous purple beets that we are so used to. Look around and if you are lucky you will find golden beets and the stunning striated Chiogga beets. Buy a mix for the beauty of it.
Last night, for dinner, I decided to create a menu that features both parts of the beet by making a frittata with beet greens and a salad of roasted beets on the side. It was a delicious and satisfying vegetarian meal — one that would be great for Meatless Monday, if that is something you are trying to do — and I liked how I used the whole beet. This kind of mindful cooking — that minimizes waste and treats food as the precious resource it is — is my goal right now, inspired by Tamar Adler’s wonderful new cooking manifesto, The Everlasting Meal.
To prepare beet greens, cut them off the tops of the beets, trim any thick or woody stems and then soak them in several changes of cold water. They are filthy! I felt like a farmer handling these things. Once they are clean, blanch the greens for two minutes in lightly salted boiling water. Remove them immediately to an ice water bath. This will preserve the bright green color. Drain and gently squeeze to remove excess water. You will be amazed by how a big bunch of greens shrinks down to nothing, so buy more than you think you need. Once drained, you can saute the greens in olive oil with some minced garlic and red pepper flakes. To make the frittata, I sauteed the greens in a 10-inch non-stick skillet, then poured in a mixture of 8 eggs, 1/4 cup milk, a handful of grated cheese, 1/3 cup flour and 3/4 tsp. baking powder, plus salt and pepper. Then I baked the frittata at 350 for 50 minutes. It came out puffy and golden and delicious. With a cold salad of roasted beets on the side, it was a lovely beet-centric meal.
Roasted Beet Salad
2 lbs. mixed beets (choose small beets)
2 TB olive oil
1 Tb Balsamic vinegar
3 oz. soft goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 475. Peel beets and cut into bite-size pieces. Toss beets with the olive oil, salt and pepper and place in a baking dish that is large enough to accommodate the beets in a single layer. Roast at 475 for 45 minutes or until the beets are tender. Refrigerate until chilled. To serve. place beets in a pretty bowl. Drizzle Balsamic vinegar over the beets and then crumble the goat cheese over the top. Season well with salt and pepper. Feel free to add some chopped fresh herbs, like parsley or chives.