My wife posted a picture last week with the caption: ‘Living with Peter means you walk into your kitchen and think what is that and how the hell do you eat it? Dutch beets apparently. Not some weird radish/carrot/potato hybrid thing like I thought.’ Ha! Working with new vegetables like Dutch beets is just one of the many reasons I really like our decision to get a custom CSA this year from Montalbano Farms in order to supplement our backyard plantings. I’d never seen this variety before so I eagerly added them to our weekly box!
Dutch beets are what is known as an ‘heirloom’ or ‘heritage’ beet. You see that classification on a lot of vegetables like heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, apples, etc. but what does it mean? According to my interwebz research heirloom basically means the fruit or vegetable is grown from an open-pollinated (birds, bees, wind) seed of an old plant. It’s a seed which has been passed down year after year from one plant to the next and you keep the cycle going. I believe most of the typical grocery store produce are known as hybrids where there has been cross-pollinization of different varieties to create desirable traits (bigger, disease resistant, faster growing, higher yields, etc.). Now there’s nothing wrong with hybrids but I think heirlooms have much better flavor to them. For example, last year I had three different varieties of tomato plants in the back yard, one of which was an heirloom (Brandywine) and it tasted so much sweeter than the others. To sum it up: heirloom – old seeds, plant, harvest, keep seeds for next year; hybrid – think Gregor Mendel and his pea plants.
Most of us probably grew up eating the sliced, canned ones as a second thought side dish so no one really knows what to do with fresh ones. And that’s too bad because fresh beets are chock full of nutrients like vitamin C, a vitamin B, potassium, manganese, and fiber. The one drawback to preparing beets is they can take some time to cook and become tender and that doesn’t work well for quick weeknight meals. But you can get around that by roasting beets ahead of time so they’re ready to be added to the dish. Mise-en-place people!
So other than borscht or boiled or Harvard style what can you do with beets? Personally I like to combine them with the beet greens as it’s a very logical pairing to keep the greens with the vegetable. Per The Flavor Bible I added some other ingredients to help balance the sweetness of the beets, salt from the bacon, acid from the vinegar, and walnuts for some bitter-dry tannins and crunchy texture. Work that palate! Although I didn’t have any, I think some crumbled goat cheese or blue cheese would be a fantastic topping to add some creaminess to the dish. These were so good I added them to next week’s CSA order as well!
Dutch Beets with Beet Greens (makes 4 servings)
- 1 lb Dutch beets w greens
- 2 pieces of bacon, cut into pieces
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 Tbs butter
- 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
- 3 Tbs chopped walnuts
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
Wash and scrub the beets then cut the greens off of the beets and set aside. Place the trimmed beets in a small baking dish with about ½ -1 inch of water. Cover pan with aluminum foil and roast in oven for 60 minutes, until fork tender. Remove and allow to cool.
When cool enough to handle peel the skin from the beets. This is a pretty easy process. The outer skin will be loose and you can peel off with your fingers. Side Roam: Do not wear white while peeling the beets, they get slippery and one will inevitably make a dash for the floor where you’ll instinctively try to catch it by pushing your body up against the counter. You’ll save the beet but will have a big purple spot on your shirt or shorts. Trust me on this!
You can set the beets aside and refrigerate until later or continue.
Cut the beets into a small dice.
Wash the beet greens and cut into small strips/shred.
In a pan over medium heat cook the bacon until crispy. Add the shallots and brown.
Next add the shredded beet greens and sauté until the greens begin to wilt. Add the diced beets, heat and stir in the butter. Season with salt to taste.
Stir in the balsamic vinegar and walnuts. Serve!