Confession: I was a teenage beet-phobe. For years, you couldn’t get me near the things. A childhood of Manischewitz borscht did the nasty deed: cold, cloying sour-cream-inoculated fuchsia fluid that had no place as a vegetable or in a bowl.
I still won’t go near the stuff, be it Manischewitz bottled or Michelin-starred. Childhood trauma dies hard. But salvation did appear one day in the form of a goat cheese-and-Golden beet salad—not a trace of fuchsia! These days, I eat beets gladly, tossed with olive oil and garlic in root-vegetable roasts or sliced and lightly steamed with butter, their leaves used in salads or sautéed.
In fact, beets are remarkably versatile, with most types—and there are many—suited to roasting, boiling, pickling, and canning. The Red Ace is the typical supermarket variety, but the Golden, best harvested as a “baby,” is also common. Heirloom varieties abound now at greenmarkets: the sweet, bull’s-eye-ringed Chioggia, brought from Italy in 1840; the red/brown super-sweet Ruby Queen; and the creamy white Albino. The heirloom Bull’s Blood, brought from England, is notable for its deep wine-red foliage, an “it” leaf for salads.
And since Rick Laakkonen at Antipasti (1 N Broadway, White Plains 914-949-3500; antipastiny.com) is an “it” chef for innovative seasonal dishes, beets are de rigueur on his autumn menu. “Beets are very earthy and can stand up to big flavors,” he says. Accompanying either seared Nova Scotia halibut cheeks or sea scallops, his gold, red, and Chioggia baby beets are first roasted, peeled, and marinated in olive oil, shallots, and subtly floral Arneis wine vinegar. Their leaves are gently wilted for the dish’s emerald bed. And then there’s the culminating wizardry of a parsley-flecked omelet disc and piquant bottarga sauce. “The dish is a great balance of flavors, textures, and colors,” says Scandinavian-born Laakkonen, who adds, “I grew up with beets. They’re Finnish soul food.” Right on, chef, I’m with you. Just keep them away from sour cream and a soup bowl.
Beet, Endive, and Gorgonzola Salad
Courtesy of Rick Laakkonen, Antipasti Restaurant, White Plains
1 bunch (4 or 5) large red beets
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots, minced
salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste
1 endive, sliced thinly into slivers
1/4 cup chives, minced
4 oz Gorgonzola, crumbled
Remove beet greens, reserving for another use. Boil beets in salted water until tender. Cool and peel. Cut into thin slices. Whisk together oil and vinegar. In medium bowl, combine sliced beets with minced shallots, salt and pepper, and most of vinaigrette, reserving some to toss with endive. In a small bowl, toss slivered endive with reserved dressing and combine with minced chives and crumbled Gorgonzola. Arrange beet slices on plates. Top with endive mixture. Serve as first course, or as accompaniment to flavorful grilled or roasted meats such as quail.