GOLDEN and CHIOGGIA BEETS
Plus Their Greens
The golden beet and the “candy stripe” Chioggia — which hails from Italy — are both heirloom vegetables. In addition to these two, there are many other kinds of beets including red beets, white ones, beets that are grown for animal fodder (manglewurzels), and beets that are cultivated for sugar. Beets are closely related to chard and spinach and their greens can be cooked in the ways these two greens are. When you find beets with their greens, sort through the leaves, discard the long stems and any yellow or torn foliage, and plan to cook them right away. They may look leathery, especially those from the golden beets, but they cook quickly to tenderness and are very good (and attractive) steamed and served with the roots, whether warm or cool, as a salad.
Beets are beautiful, but they can present a challenge to otherwise good eaters. The interesting thing about this vegetable is that it is both earthy and sweet, and those two aspects sometimes quarrel with one another and turn people into beet haters. There is a secret with beets, though. To bridge these warring elements — sugar and earth, if you will — into a happier whole, use acid in the form of vinegar or citrus. The sharp tastes of lemon or lime juice, an aged red vinegar, or a sweeter balsamic vinegar work to unite these two elements and turn them into a much happier pair. There’s a reason why Harvard beets are seasoned with orange, or why beets are so often paired with goat cheese in a salad: The pungency is needed to make these elements sing. Even warm beets with butter are better with a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar.
Small Beets with their Greens and Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette
It would be a shame to lose the charm of these small, heirloom beets to a soup or a salad of finely diced mixed beets. That’s what large beets are for. I love these smaller beets steamed, the skins removed, halved or quartered, then paired with their (cooked) greens, black olives, white cheese, and dressed with a lemony vinaigrette. Add steamed carrots as well and you have a stunning salad.
6 each small golden and Chioggia beets with their greens
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon plus 1 tablespoon juice
3/8 teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 kalamata olives
Crumbled feta cheese, goat cheese, or sliced ricotta salata, to taste
1. Leave an inch of the stems on the beets and all of the tails. Wash them thoroughly, then steam over simmering water until they’re tender when pierced with a paring knife but still offer a little resistance. For small beets, 25 minutes should be long enough.
2. Slice the remainder of the stems from the base of the leaves. Sort through the leaves, discard any that are yellowed or badly torn, and wash the rest. Cook them in a pot with the water clinging in their leaves plus an extra ¼ cup, covered, until wilted and tender, about 6 minutes in all. Set them in a colander to drain while you make the dressing and peel the beets.
3. To make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, mix the shallot with the lemon zest, juice, and salt. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the oil.
4. To peel the beets, gently squeeze the skins from them with your hands. If they don’t come off readily, peel them carefully with a knife. Cut them in half (cut larger ones in quarters). Dress the beet greens with half the vinaigrette. Taste for salt, then loosely arrange them on a platter. Dress the beets, taste for salt, and scatter them over the greens. Season with pepper. Add the olives and cheese, then serve.