Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Best Beets

Up to the age of 14, I had never tried a beet. Being Italian, I had eaten many other vegetables: fennel, eggplant, rapini, etc. And it's not that I was a picky eater either... Mom just never made them. And you wouldn't catch her buying canned beets. Our pantry was stocked with fava beans, canned fish, chick-peas, and other medeteranian flavours. (Although now - and for the record - I have no objection to canned vegetables). Images of cold buffets featuring gelatinous purple vegetables flooded my mind until I finally made them for myself. On an impulse-buy in the summer, we brought home a bunch of beets (tops and all) and I made them for dinner. Back when I was a beginner cook, I simply boiled them, peeled, chopped and salted them, but even so, they were delicious! I ate every bite with purple-stained hands and have been using them ever since. Whenever I see borscht featured on a restaurant menu as an appetizer, I always order it. It's magnificent served with a dollop of quality sour cream and sprinkled with herbs like dill or chives. Years later, my favourite way of cooking them is still relatively simple. I chop off the greens (leaving an inch of stalk on each bulb to prevent colour bleeding) then boil them vigorously until a knife will poke through easily but not slide out. (There's probably a better method to finding a just-before-tender beet, but I have yet to read-up on the matter). I drain them, let them cool for a few minutes then peel them. Now, some people wear gloves to prevent their hands from turning purple, but I find if you work fast and use fresh beets,the skins slide off with minimal effort. It's no big deal anyhow, just a cooking battle-scar for a few hours. :D
Quarter them and you're good to go! From this stage I saute them in oil/sliced garlic/butter/thyme/summer savory and salt & pepper. Let them finish cooking all the way through and spoon into a dish, drizzling all the butter and oil over the top.
They will glisten and be a sweet and savory summer treat.
*Save the beet greens for other dishes. They are delicious cooked the same way you would Swiss-chard/collard greens, etc.

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