Every year around this time, people turn to me and say, “You’re into seasonal cooking. What am I supposed to eat now that nothing’s in season anymore?” The first thing that comes to mind is: beets. If you’re trying to eat seasonally and healthfully, or just hone your cooking chops, it’s a good idea to develop a liking for beets. Not only are they around all winter, but also they’re inexpensive, full of things that are good for you, and gorgeous—beets can make any dish look festive.
Now, if beets aren’t your favorite vegetable, or even close to it, that’s a bit of an obstacle to eating them. Remember Catherine O’Hara’s finicky princess in the SCTV skit, “Beauty and the beets?” Scary stuff. But I’m here to help. Starting with today’s post, I’ll be giving you four very different beet preparations—more if I come across another beet recipe that I feel passionate about—so that you, too, can enjoy this versatile if oft-scorned veggie.
I’m starting the beet series with the Chioggia beet because it’s almost unnaturally beautiful. This remarkable Italian hybrid has made a big impression on me ever since Eric Tucker, my chef at Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco, had its dramatic red-and-white target pattern tattooed on his arm, an ode to his love of vegetables. Chioggia (pronounced kee-o-jee-uh) beets are milder than their red brethren, and their exterior skin is a playful pink color that shows up at the base of their stems, too. You can eat any beet raw, but I especially like to prepare Chioggias uncooked because their distinct markings remains perfectly intact. You can roast them, too, but the color will fade somewhat.
If you’re looking for a colorful dish for your Thanksgiving table, a gourmet-style recipe to impress a special someone, or simply a tasty way to prepare beets, try this dish. The rich dressing balances the earthy taste of the beets, and the nutty farro—an ancient whole grain in the wheat family—gives the salad enough heft for a full meal. I like using farro because it’s locally grown by Cayuga Pure Organics here in New York, but you can substitute another large grain like barley, brown rice, wheat berries, or fregola pasta. Good luck, and welcome to beet season!
Creamy Chioggia and Farro Salad
1 cup farro, soaked overnight
5 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 talespoons apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh chives, minced
1 chioggia beet, cut in half
1 fennel bulb cut in half, core removed
Drain the soaking water from the farro and place it in a small saucepan. Add 2 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. The farro should be firm but chewy. Drain excess cooking water and cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, dill, and chives. Salt to taste. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, thinly shave the beets, fennel, and radishes. Add the vegetables and farro to the dressing, and toss to coat thoroughly. Taste and season with salt and a generous amount of black pepper.