I used to hate beets. I think it’s because when I was little and we’d go to a restaurant with a salad bar, my mother would take me with her and ask me to pick out anything I might want. I saw what looked like canned cranberry sauce: sliced rounds of something deep red and jello-esque and was drawn to it, thinking it was that stuff I liked from Thanksgiving. Mom would say, “I don’t think you want that. I don’t think you’d like it.” I’d stubbornly insist that I indeed wanted that, so she’d shrug and put it on her plate. Back at the table, you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when instead of the sweet but tart jellied goodness I was expecting, I’d instead find something pickled and slightly crunchy. Like the stubborn adult I am today, I’d keep eating it just to avoid admitting I had been wrong.
But this dish made me a convert. Our CSA included a batch of golden beets in our basket last year and included a recipe for gnocchi, beets, goat cheese, and garlic butter. I decided to give it a try but tried roasting the beets instead of boiling them and thought that it was a shame to waste all those lovely beet greens so I thought I might stir those in as well. I love the way beets smell as they’re roasting (I do mine with a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of salt and pepper with a couple of sprigs of thyme from our garden): the caramelizing sugars almost smell like cookies to me, but there’s an underlying verdant aroma to it. So cookies outdoors? Not sure. Also, the greens smell grassy to me, but once they cook, they’re subtle in flavor, but a little acidic (as John rightfully pointed out.) The acid is a good counterbalance to the creaminess of the goat cheese and the sweet but distinctly vegetable flavor of the beets. But it’s the toasted walnuts that really pull it altogether for me. The crunch is a good texture contrast to the softness of the rest of the dish, plus toasting them brings out the melted butter and who doesn’t love that? This paired nicely with a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc we bought on our trip to Napa last September from the Sequoia Grove Winery.
Yep. I like beets. Not enough to eat this, but I wouldn’t want to miss a summer or a fall that didn’t have at least one dinner with beets. If you think you don’t like beets, please give this a try. The colors alone will entice you.
1 16 oz package of gnocchi (unless you have the time to make your own!)
1 bunch of beets (don’t know… 1lb?) with the greens still attached.
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
2 oz chevre
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp basil, thinly chopped
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the stems from the beets and reserve the greens. Wash the beets thoroughly and cut each one in half lengthwise. Take a longish piece of aluminum foil (enough so that when folded in half you can make a packet to fit all the beet halves) and drizzle with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the beets and lay the thyme sprigs on top. Fold the foil over to cover the beets and roll up the sides. Cook in your oven for about 40 minutes or until fork tender.
In the meantime, toast the walnuts in a toaster oven at about 325 degrees or in a dry pan. Cook for about 10 minutes or until you can smell them (but why trust me? I burned my nuts. That’s what she said!) Rough chop the greens and wash and drain them thoroughly. When the beets are done, unwrap the foil and let them cool until you can touch them without burning your fingers off. Peel away the skins and slice the beet halves lengthwise or whatever way you think makes them look pretty.
Cook the gnocchi according to package directions and drain. Heat the remaining tbsp of olive oil in the pot and stir the greens around until wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste then set aside. Melt the butter and add the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat until the garlic is softened and cooked but not burned. Toss the gnocchi and the greens in the butter until heated through then plate. Sprinkle the beets, walnuts, goat cheese, chives, and basil in hopefully a pretty way and serve.
CSA Count: 3 (4 if you count the lettuce in our salad)
Beets, chives, garlic, little gem lettuce
P.S. Unless you like your food to look like that shirt you were thinking of buying at Filene’s Basement, I wouldn’t recommend doing this with red beets. The shocking pink stain to the gnocchi is not appetizing (she says from past experience.)