The farmers’ market here, while quite small in the winter, is rightly so quite proud of its produce. We recently bought some sweet, purple garlic from friends of Matt’s Teague and Kosma Channing, who founded Gemini Farms outside of Santa Fe. We also brought home these two huge, beautiful ruddy beets.
As I pulled out a tray to pop one in the oven and thumbed through Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, I felt accountable for keeping these beet flavors true, whatever they would turn out to be. So I drizzled some good olive oil on the beet and sent it on its way to roast for what turned out to be 1 1/2 hours (it was a seriously big beet!). When it came out I peeled it, cubed it, and immediately popped one small, deep red cube in my mouth. WOW. It was not like the sugary sweet beets I have come to hate. The beet tasted of, well, dirt. But the most wonderfully complex earth, wrapped up in a somewhat sugary, tender purple package. It reminded me of the earthy, yellow beet vodka I had tasted at Blue Hill at Stone Barns last year. More than that, it reminded me of the expression on the prim and proper bartenders face when I said, “Wow, tastes like dirt!” Dirt, terroir, earth.
When food tastes like it comes from the soil, the only thing a cook can do is try to accentuate those flavors. Sometimes this means adding heat, sometimes adding a complimentary flavor, and sometimes giving it a gentle scrub under the faucet and nothing more. I toasted a few cumin seeds, added in a bit of tumeric for bite and color, and a little salt and lime juice to bring out the flavor. It was the most satisfying little root I had tasted in a long time, and I wouldn’t claim to have done anything about that. Except enjoy the cubes until my fingers, mouth, fork, and bowl were stained with their sweet, earthy juice.
Today, well, it was back to fire roasting with our second beet. I washed it, peeled it, diced it, sprinkled on some salt and olive oil, and placed it, along with garlic, radicchio, rosemary sprigs, and a couple of carrots onto the heat of the coals. After about 30 minutes we had perfectly roasted beets and radicchio, which we topped with some sliced black olives, fresh goat cheese, and some freshly toasted and ground cumins. Welcome to beet heaven.
Fire roasted beet salad with radicchio, fresh goat cheese, and black olives
1-2 beets, washed, peeled, and cut into 1″ dice
1-2 small bunches radicchio, washed and de-stemmed
4 sprigs rosemary, washed, 2 minced and 2 reserved
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of salt-cured black olives, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, dry toasted in a pan for two minutes and coarsely ground
3 ounces mild, fresh goat cheese, broken or crumbled
Toss the beets in a good glug of olive oil and sprinkle on some salt. Place them in your metal roasting pan. Toss the radicchio with a teaspoon of olive oil and black pepper and add to pan next to the beets. Add the two stems of rosemary and any other ingredients you’d like to roast.
Once you’re down to just coals (reading about 600F), push them to one side and add the pan onto the irons above the coals. Roast the radicchio for 3 minutes, turning once. Once they’re just limp, remove. Continue to roast the beets, turning a couple times for 30 minutes in total. Check the temperature periodically and blow on your coals to generate more heat if needed. The heat at the bottom of your pan should be at least 300F. Once the beets are fork tender, remove and add to the radicchio. Discard the rosemary.
Tip: Whenever I’m roasting something I generally add a whole head of garlic, top sliced off so all the cloves are exposed and then dips face down in olive oil. This way I can have roasted garlic whenever I like. You know it’s roasted when the garlic is soft to the touch and slightly brown where exposed. If you’re roasting on really high heat, cover the top of the garlic in a bit of tinfoil.
Add the olives and minced rosemary to the salad. In a small bowl, add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, cumin, and some freshly cracked pepper. Whisk. Top the salad with the goat cheese. Add the dressing and toss. Enjoy!
For the oven folks
You can also make this salad by using your oven and stove stop. Make sure the rack is situated at the top 1/3 of the oven and heat to 400F. Cover the beets in foil and roast for 20 minutes, then remove foil and roast 20 minutes more, tossing a couple of times. In a heavy saute pan, saute the radicchio until wilted, about 8 minutes. Proceed with recipe above.
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