Beets : The Crown Jewels of a Summer Garden
In mid August, dirt-crusted crowns pop up out of the ground announcing that beets are ready to pick. Ranging in size from a toddler’s wooden bead to a golf ball, beets brazenly take a taste of earth along with them wherever they go and however they are prepared.
For years I was put off by that earthy taste except in Borscht where it was subdued by the tartness of vinegar. Then good balsamic vinegar hit the general marketplace and my reserve dissolved. Those dazzling garnet beauties became one of my favorite summer treats.
Following are several beet salad options. The towers layered with chevre make a dramatic first course; beet slices with chevre swirls (a little Home Ec jargon) are a less fussy version with the same flavors. For the simplest quick dinner salad, sprinkle chopped beets and a little feta over greens.
- Chevre’s creamy tartness blends beautifully with the earthy taste of beets, and the combination is enhanced by sweetness of aged Balsamic vinegar syrup. It’s a great pre entrée.
- Sometimes chevre can be difficult to slice. To avoid breaking the cheese, dip a sharp paring knife in water before every slice. This time I processed the chevre with a little cream, put it in a pastry bag and put it over the slices. It may seem like an overdone Heloise thing, but it is easy, takes less time than “fixing the broken slices” and is less fussy.
- The tiny croutons might seem like a Barbie Beet Birthday, but they are the right proportion for small plates. My friend Bobbette served them with small bowls of soup; they were beautiful. I make a full loaf at one time and freeze whatever is left in a resealable plastic bag.
Fresh Beet and Chevre Towers
4 large or 8 small fresh beets
4 tsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon or fresh mint
1 fresh chevre log
Fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
Balsamic Syrup for each beet: 2 tsp. for large beets; 1 tsp. for small beets
Salad Greens for 4
½ cup Tiny Croutons
- Cut beet greens off leaving 1 ½” of stem. Wash and boil until the flesh is just barely soft enough to prick easily with a sharp knife. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the beets to an ice bath to stop cooking and set color. When they are cool, remove the stems and the skin. It should be easy to squeeze it gently and have them come right off. Chill the skinned beets until they are slightly cooler than room temp (or refrigerate them until you are ready to make the towers, up to 24 hours).
- Remove chevre from refrigerator and slice into ¼” slices for large beets or slightly thinner for smaller ones. Cover a plate with plastic wrap and place slices on it. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- When beets are cool, slice into ¼” discs, keeping slices in order from the bottom up.
- Starting with the bottom slice of each beet, top it with a slice of chevre, then a pinch of tarragon, making a tower alternating beet, chevre and tarragon, finishing the tower with the top of the beet. Set towers aside on a platter or plate. When the towers are finished they can be refrigerated for several hours. Bring them to slightly cooler than room temperature before getting them ready to serve.
- To Serve: Place each tower over fresh greens that have been dressed with vinaigrette. In the photo I used butter lettuce cups. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the beet tower and then Balsamic Syrup in a pattern. Garnish with tiny croutons, tarragon sprigs and swirls of Balsamic Syrup. Serve immediately.
Balsamic Vinegar Syrup
Simmer vinegar in small pot until it thickens, about 8-10 minutes.
Use only good aged Balsamic vinegar for syrup; cheap vinegars are not mellow and will not form into syrup. The best values in good Balsamic Vinegar are Costco’s Kirkland Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, Italy, or Whole Foods Aged Balsamic Vinegaralso from Modena. Musini, an Italian specialty foods company makes several Balsamic Glazes that are terrific and packaged in plastic bottles with squeeze tops that work really well. They are pricey but worth it because they last a long time and taste just wonderful. The glazes are available at Metropolitan Markets, Amazon, specialty food stores and Whole Foods.
Cut regular white sandwich bread into tiny squares. In a mixing bowl, toss them with melted butter, and then put them in a sheet pan lined with parchment. Preheat the oven to 250º and bake them until they are golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
Juice of 1 small or ½ large fresh lemon
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Sliced Beets and Chevre Salad
This salad uses the same ingredients as the Beet and Chevre Tower recipe above. The difference is that instead of making towers, slice the beets and arrange them alternately with slices of chevre over greens or using a pastry tube, pipe creamed chevre over the sliced beets (see photo). Garnish with Balsamic Syrup or Glaze and croutons.
Chopped Beets and Feta Salad
4 large beets or 8 small beets, cooked, peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
1 ½ tbs aged Balsamic vinegar
Salad greens for 4 portions, washed, drained and torn for salad
4 tsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon or 2 tsp. dried tarragon (mint also works well)
½ cup Basic Vinaigrette
¼ cup broken feta cheese
2 chive stems for garnish
- Toss the chopped beets in the vinegar.
- In a medium-size mixing bowl, toss the salad greens and herbs with the vinaigrette.
- Divide greens among chilled serving plates, making an indent in the center of each plate for the beets.
- Divide the beets among the plates and sprinkle each beet mound with feta. Garnish with whatever you have. I used chive stems for the photo.