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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beet It

I have a love-hate relationship with beets.  When I was four and would only eat hamburgers on a vacation (ketchup and pickles only, please, don't even consider putting mustard or onions on them), the other thing I was guaranteed to eat were beets.  As in canned beats.  As in the overly-brilliantly-colored, salad-bar staple.  Several decades older, I shudder at the thought.

I became a much more adventurous eater when I moved to New Orleans at 17, but never contemplated eating a beet again until five years ago, when the ubiquitous roasted beet and goat cheese salad began appearing on restaurant menus, well, everywhere.  After a few less-than-inspired versions, I wrote beets off again.

And then they arrived in last week's CSA box, with their plumy greens and garnet color.  The color is so vibrant that I can't even come up with the right words to describe it.  I decided gave them another chance.  This salad tempers the sweetness of the roasted beets with crunchy, bright fennel and a simple olive tapenade vinaigrette.

Roasted Beet Salad with Fennel and Olive Tapenade
Adapted from A16 Food + Wine

1 bunch medium red beets (about 3-4 good-sized beets)
Kosher salt
Up to 1/2 cup good olive oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed of the stalks and fronds
1/3 cup pitted black olives
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Shaved ricotta salata or parmesan cheese, for serving

Wash the beets with their greens, and remove the top and stem of the beets.  Keep the greens--they can be used in another recipe that I will post separately.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the beets in a small roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt.  Cover and roast until the beets are tender when poked with a knife, about an hour.  Then remove from the oven and left them cool enough to be picked up and peeled, either with fingers or a paring knife.  Slice the skinned beets into small wedges and set aside.

To prepare the fennel, cut the bulb in half lengthwise and remove the tough core.  Slice each half into 1/4 inch pieces and bring a small pot of salted water to boil.  Submerge the fennel in the water briefly (less than two minutes), drain and immediately rinse with very cold water to stop the cooking process.

Then, make the olive vinaigrette.  Put the olives in a small food processor and chop until they are in small pieces.  Add the vinegar and then add in the olive oil by tablespoons, until the mixture comes together--the whole process should take less than a minute.  Add extra vinegar or a little salt to taste.  This could also be made by hand or in a mortar and pestle--fine chopping is not required.

In a small bowl, mix the fennel with the lemon juice and a pinch of salt and drizzle in another tablespoon of olive oil.  Toss the mixture until the fennel is coated and taste.  Add extra lemon juice or another bit of salt to taste.

In another bowl, combine the olive vinaigrette and the beets.  Toss to combine.

This looks better on a platter than on individual plates--place the fennel mixture on the bottom, then top with  the roasted beets.  Shave the cheese over the top.  I used ricotta salata, which is mild-tasting, but parmesan or pecorino would work too.

Serves 4 as a first course or two with leftovers.  The salad holds up well in the refrigerator for a couple of days, although assume any cheese left on it will immediately be colored purple from the beets.

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