I like beets. This was not always the case. In my world, as I knew it, once upon a time in Alaska, beets came out of a can and were shaped like the can (ironically, so did the cranberry sauce). This always seemed a little dubious to me, as did our oddly flavored (and shaped) breakfast meat (some of you might remember but hopefully were spared the pleasure of eating), a little product called Spam.
My mother loved beets (and Spam); she still loves beets but hopefully not Spam (although I recently found some in her pantry). So I often found myself struggling to invent new ways to bypass these foods at meal time; a skill I never did quite figure out.
My first introduction to real beets came during a restaurant job many years ago. They were frequently on the menu and I fell for them madly, especially the ones that were golden in color (a fairly uncommon produce at the time). I was so infatuated with this hard, knobby object and that it could be boiled to such tender sweetness. Sliced open they reveal an inner beauty that is far more intriguing (and tasty) than the canned cousin. The beautiful, yet subtle pattern on a beet slice resembles the growth rings that you see on the cut trunk of a tree. These rings are much less subtle on Chiogga beats, which are a stunning contrast of red and white making them almost cartoon-like. The possibilities fresh beets have for stunning presentations are endless (as are the flavor combinations).
These days I roast my beets; a technique I learned at the same restaurant as the one that introduced me to the possibilities of beets and taught me to cook them in water. I think they taste great either way but I prefer the depth of flavor that is achieved by roasting.
There are many variations I do with beet towers depending on my mood and on the season. I developed this particular variation for a recent contest I entered at Food 52 that showcased leafy greens. Fresh beet greens are often under utilized (meaning many people…gasp, toss them away). Okay, so I have often been a culprit to this myself but knowing how delicious they are, I urge you to rid yourself of that habit (as I have).
Beet Tower with Red Chard Sauce
These little gems are layered with earthy flavors and make use of both the beet and its’ green. The chèvre can be as subtle or as dominant as you like and is a long-time partner of the beet. The sauce is bright and freshly flavored, taking on a unique character from the L’Estronell vinegar. If you are unable to find this vinegar, substitute with another good quality red wine vinegar but adjust based on acidity,
You can use any variety of beet for this, I just happen to have had a bunch of red beets when I set out to develop this recipe.
These would be good to serve at a dinner party because they are easy to do ahead, take minimal time to plate and make an impressive first course.
INGREDIENTS (for tower)
*Note – each beet will likely yield 2-3 towers depending on how thin you go with the slice. If you are particularly fond of chèvre, as I am, you can thicken that layer to suit your taste. To make the beet flavor more pronounced than the chèvre, stick to a thin coating of the cheese. I like the tame, refined flavor of Laura Chenel goat chèvre but use your favorite.
*1 Bunch baby beets with greens attached (approximately 4 small beets)
1 TB olive oil (for roasting), plus additional for sautéing the greens
Sea salt and fresh pepper to season
1 small – medium shallot, chopped
2 TB L’Estronell Grenache vinegar plus a dash for the boiling water
1 – 2 TB tap water
2 TB lemon juice plus one wedge to squeeze over beets
3 oz chèvre (Laura Chenel or equal)
Lemon zest to garnish
Remove the greens from the beets, discard the stems and put the greens in a bowl of cold water to clean. Swish, wash, swish, rinse and drain well.
Scrub the beets clean and pat dry. Put the beets on a sheet of foil large enough to cover them in a packet. Drizzle over the TB olive oil then squeeze over a lemon wedge and drop it onto the pan with the beets; season with salt and pepper. Wrap the foil into a packet and set on a baking sheet.
Roast the beets in a pre-heated 425 degree oven until tender when pierced with a knife (approximately 30-45 minutes depending on their size).
Remove and let cool, packet opened. Using a paper towel, rub off the skin (if cooked tenderly, the root end should rub off easily, otherwise trim the top and bottom to create a straight surface.
Slice the beets 1/16 – 3/32″ on a mandolin.
Set these aside.
Clean the beet greens and gather them on the chopping block as if you are about to julienne basil (grasped in the palm of your hand with the tip bunched up but exposed) slice horizontally into strips cutting the strips into bite size pieces.
Place a sauté pan over high heat. Sprinkle a few small pinches sea salt and 5-10 grinds fresh pepper into the pan. When heated, add a drizzle of olive oil then the chopped shallot. Stir to blend and add the cut beet greens. Turn the heat to medium low and add the 2 TB Grenache vinegar (followed by up to 2 TB tap water if needed). Let this cook until wilted and soft yet not mushy; one more minute or two, then set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, stir with a fork, the (+/-) 3 oz. chèvre & 2 TB lemon juice until it is a consistency that is spreadable (add a little water if needed).
Working on a sheet of wax paper or a plate, set one slice beet in front of you and spread 1/2 tsp (or so) chèvre over. Top with 1 tsp (or so) of cooked beet green mix. Repeat with beet slice, then goat cheese and then green. Top with one more beet slice.
Place all your beet towers on a baking sheet and heat for 5 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
I like to plate these individually. There are several ways to craft the presentation. I think it looks nice to place one tower in the center of a white plate and drizzle the sauce around the edge decoratively (as pictured at top of post). If you would like to enjoy more nuances of the sauce, you could alternatively ladle a spoonful of the sauce on the plate (spreading to form a pool larger than the beets) and place the beet tower on top of the sauce (as pictured below).
INGREDIENTS (for the sauce)
It is best to make this sauce just before planning to heat your beet towers so that it is still warm. You can reheat it gently in the microwave but some of the color might turn a little less bright. Extra sauce could be used the next day to flavor ravioli filling or to enhance soup.
4 leaves red chard, inner stem removed
3 stems brocolini (reserve the head for eating at a later date)
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
Pot of water, salted (approximately 2 tsp kosher salt) with a dash of Grenache vinegar.
1/8 a 1/4 cup beet green boiling water
2 tsp L’ Estronell Grenache vinegar
1 tsp good quality olive oil
Sea salt and pepper just to taste
Bring the pot of water to a boil. Add the brocolini stems and garlic clove. One minute later add the chard leaves. Keep at a moderate boil for 2 minutes. Next, using kitchen tongs, remove, first the chard, then the garlic and brocolini stems to a processor (I use a Magic Bullet for this because it is compact, transportable and processes small amounts well).
Add in part of the 1/4 cup beet greens boiling water, the vinegar and the oil.
Now this is where da da da dum… The beet goes on (I know – geeeek)! If you are not making these for a dinner party but instead, a light dinner or a salad course for two (such as me on that particular night), you might not use all of the beets + greens, chard or chard sauce for that matter. You might not even use all of the goat cheese mixture that you whipped up for this purpose. No worries, there are plenty of other ways to make use of your efforts without having leftovers or compost.
A word of warning, I am now going to ramble a bit (at least it might sound such to you but in my head it is very clear and commonsensical). Go with me on this and try to follow along. You can always contact me later to say what the fu…? or you can tune out now and go happily about making beet towers.
I had cooked all of the beet greens (as per my instructions) which left me with 1/4 cup or so of the beet greens mixture. I also had approximately 1/4 cup red chard sauce and an undetermined amount of goat cheese mixture (maybe 3TB) that was unused.
It just so happened (quite coincidently, I assure you) that I had picked up 6 sheets of fresh pasta at Delaurenti in the Pike Place Market on Friday, along with some fresh ricotta cheese and thin slices of Porchetta. It was now Monday and all of these goodies were calling to be used along with the leftover ingredients from my beet towers. So here is what I did:
I went to work and came home. I scratched my head and thought about what I wanted to eat (Tom was not helping with ideas, other than, “Whatever you feel like making, I’m game”). I remembered my pasta sheets and also remembered I had half of a cooked butternut squash. Tom doesn’t so much care for squash. Now I remember the Porchetta. Tom loves Porchetta. That night we ate light pasta pillows filled with chèvre & ricotta cheeses, Porchetta and beet greens tossed in red chard sauce. I say pillows of pasta because the shapes were not very definable, some shaped like ravioli and some rolled like…? (Tom says Plin, seems more Bob Marley).
To make, I simply took out my bowl of goat cheese mix, added 1/2 of the ricotta cheese to it and mixed in the leftover, cooked beet green mix.
I then laid out two sheets of pasta dough and plunked down dollops of filling in even spacing. Tom worked on one sheet (folding, cutting, sealing) and me the other. Above is the result. Next I began the sauce. I sautéed chopped onion (1/2 of a small) and cooked until soft and slightly caramelized (10 minutes). To this came a few splashes L’Estronell Grenache vinegar and then I added in the remainder from my glass of white wine.
I stirred it together and emptied the container of leftover red chard sauce from above.
Next, I cooked the pasta pillows in salted, boiling water for 6 minutes. I pulled them from the water to drain and tossed them in with the sauce to coat.
To serve, I divided among heated bowls (two bowls, which left enough for Tom’s lunch the next day) and grated fresh pecorino over top. The pasta sheets are so light and eggy. I will definitely be getting them again when I am unable to make my own. I hadn’t expected to like dinner that night so it was a pleasant surprise to find myself swooning (yes, swooning – ask Tom).
The next night, I did this:
I came home from work and already had an idea. Tom was on board.
I thawed a package of grass fed ground beef (3/4 lb). I then sautéed the other onion half (from the night before) along with 2 cloves garlic, all chopped. I added the ground beef which I had lightly seasoned with sea salt and pepper before bringing to room temp while the onions cooked. Once browned and cooked through, I added L’Estronell Grenache vinegar (a few splashes) then drank a glass of wine while it cooled.
I mixed the remaining half container (approx 1/2 cup) fresh ricotta cheese into the beef mixture. I shook in some allspice (1/2 tsp) and cayenne (much less).
While the beef was cooking, I cooked the remaining leaves of chard that I hadn’t used in the sauce (1/2 the head), stems removed. 2 minutes into cooking, I fished them out of the water with tongs and squeezed them of liquid, chopped the leaves and mixed them into the beef mixture. As an after-thought, I chopped 3 more slices of Porchetta and added that to the mix. A little more salt and pepper rounded it out well.
I laid out 2 more sheets of fresh pasta and put the filling at the short end, rolled it over and cut. I repeated this until the pasta and the mix was gone. For two sheets of pasta, I was able to get 6 cannelloni rolls (3 each).
In a baking pan, I put down a few spoons of tomato sauce (I always have some that I make in batches to freeze so I thawed 1 cups worth first). I put three of the cannelloni down over the sauce and covered them with the rest. Shredded Parmesan and mozzarella went on top and then got melted as they baked (for approximately 30 minutes) in an oven set to 375 degrees. It is important to let them rest for 5-10 minutes, covered, out of the oven before serving. Tom ate two and I ate one, alongside a salad. The other three went into the freezer for another night.
Again, prettier in person but really tasty.