One of my favorite days from this past summer was when John and I used a Groupon for one of our favorite restaurants downtown then went to the New Pornographers concert which was just a couple blocks away. Delicious food followed by live music from one of my favorite bands– it’s hard to think of a more perfect evening.
At dinner, John and I shared a small plate of spiced beets. The beets were presented simply on a white, rectangular dish, garnet red with a sweet and spicy sauce. John and I tried in vain to figure out the spices, but I think my best guest might be that it was an apple cider reduction. With beets aplenty from the CSA, I thought of the beets from that night and set out on making a sweet and spicy beet dish of my own.
Only my dish? Not as simple. I had my heart set on using toasted walnuts and flecks of creamy, tangy blue cheese as I thought that those elements would have added texture to the dish of beets we ate that summer night. And as always happens when I cook beets, I saw the lonely, discarded green tops and thought, well, why not add them as a bed for my roasted beets since they would add color and a subtle, woodsy flavor. The CSA also gave us a large fennel bulb, so I sliced it and roasted it along side of the beets figuring that it’s sweet, nutty, licorice flavors would pair nicely with thebeets. As for the sauce? Well, rather than buy apple cider, my thoughts went to this spice butter recipe, one that I had obsessed about during the summer.
In the end, I had quite the complicated composed beet salad, and although Tim Gunn’s voice saying, “You need to learn to edit!” was repeating itself over and over again in my head, this jumbled mess was super delicious. The beets were sweet and firm and matched beautifully with the warm, browned butter that prickled with heat and delicious aromas from cinnamon, coriander, and ginger. The shallots that cooked in the butter were crispy and matched the hearty crunch of the toasted walnuts. And although it added yet another layer to my complex salad, the chopped fresh cilantro added the perfect amount of bright, green flavor to tie everything together. I do love simplicity, but in this case, I had a fine mess that was, well, a very fine mess.
- 3 medium ace beets
- 1 large fennel bulb, sliced into 1/2 inch thick pieces
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon of each of the following: ground ginger, ground coriander, ground cinnamon, cayenne pepper and paprika
- a pinch each of red pepper flakes and ground turmeric
- chopped beet green tops
- 1 large clove of garlic, smashed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
- 2 oz crumbled blue cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut beets in half lengthwise and place on a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Place thyme sprigs on top of beets then wrap foil tightly around the beets.
Spread fennel pieces out on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix the fennel around to coat each piece. Bake the fennel and the beets in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until beets are easily pierced with a paring knife and the fennel is light brown at the edges (note– fennel may be done sooner than beets so check on them around 30 minutes.) Remove from oven and set aside.
While the vegetables are roasting, make the spiced butter. Add the butter and olive oil to a small skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots soften and butter browns a little. Stir in the spices and season with a pinch of salt. Keep warm on low heat until ready to use.
While butter and shallots cook, saute the beet greens. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the smashed garlic clove in a medium skillet over medium heat. When garlic has lightly toasted on both sides, remove the clove and add the chopped beet greens. Saute until greens are tender and wilted, about 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, plate the greens then layer the beet and fennel slices on top. Pour on the spiced butter with the shallots then sprinkle with walnuts, blue cheese and cilantro.
CSA Count: 4
Ace beets, fennel bulb, cilantro, shallot