vegetarian

Crazy For

17 July 2009

Sometimes love creeps in over the doorstep slowly and gently to land up at your feet with a shy smile. At others it sweeps in on a great booming rush of wind and sound, filling up a room with its presence until there’s nothing else to hear or see. At still others love arrives on a sunny afternoon by the water, the air blue and the sky bluer, with white wine and a mediocre dessert you hardly notice because you’re too busy noticing other things. And then sometimes — oh, sweet sometimes — love just is and you don’t know why exactly except that it’s simply beautiful and delicious.

For a very long time I didn’t like beets, though I always thought I ought to. They were so pretty once stripped of their skins and in a way more beautiful still — all rough and ready and knobbly — before even doing so. But they also seemed like too much work: peeling

the darn things when raw left my hands scraped and I had to scrub them for at least five minutes to get off that bright mauve stain. I didn’t care what they tasted like because that initial bit of effort deterred me right off. Beets? Who needed them.

Well, err, I do apparently, because lately I can’t get enough. I’ve been buying great bunches at the farmers’ market with a little thrill of secret glee: beets, my precious. Sure I’d share if you asked me very (very) nicely, but I can get possessive about my beets. I want them all for me.

Saturday mornings after filling my market bag with those beauties, probably too many tomatoes (they’re here! And I can’t resist.), a few handfuls of stone fruit, I carry my bounty home and carefully snip off the greens. I take out my old Le Creuset baking dish that has survived several moves and cross-country trips and I turn on the oven. I roast my beets until they’re cooked all the way through without any funny rubbery bits around the edges, slip off their skins, chop them up fine, and then toss them in the fridge if I don’t devour them all immediately.

At first I would put a few slices at the bottom of bowls of fresh greens but then I started just eating them straight up, maybe doused with a bit of olive oil and vinegar but mostly just sprinkled with salt and pepper. A few weeks ago I had a perfect salad cadged from what I had in the fridge: a pile of roasted beets and a lemon cucumber chopped up quickly, mixed together and sprinkled with a little lemon juice and salt. If I’d had, say, a bit of chopped parsley or mint I might have added that as well but as it was that salad was sweet and satisfying.

Call me crazy, but it’s becoming a slight addiction. Correction: it’s become a slight addiction. I’ve been eating beets almost every night for a straight week and I fear my skin will soon turn purple (oh, but isn’t purple such a pretty color?) or a light magenta. But maybe that wouldn’t be so terrible?

Summer for me means an overload of vegetables and vegetable-choked dinners. For example, the other night I sliced and sauteed a small red onion in butter and oil until melting and chopped up my two fat heirloom tomatoes (first for me of the season) I’d gotten at the market. I cooked it all down into a silky, summery sauce I then draped over spaghetti — quick, fresh, and unbelievably addictive. The next I had a baked potato with a generous spoonful of sour cream, corn on the cob, half a bunch of sauteed chard, and a salad of roasted beets, greens, sungold tomatoes, and cucumber.

(The beets in that salad comprised a whole bunch. It was a small bunch but still! A whole bunch! Do I have a Problem?)

It seems appropriate to think about love when I think about beets because a) as evidenced above I clearly do love them and b) I came to love them by way of Valentine’s Day. Years ago — in another lifetime — on that holiday I cooked a dinner for my then-boyfriend: portabello ‘steaks’ marinated in sesame oil, garlic, soy sauce, and white wine balanced carefully on a fluffy pile of mashed potatoes; green beans and lemon zest; a decadent chocolate dessert. I had hummus and olives to start off (my standard), but I wanted do something a little more fun, too.

For whatever reason I hit on the idea of roasting beets and then using the tiniest of tiny cookie cutters to carve out little stars (I didn’t have a heart-shaped one, alas) with which I then sandwiched a smear of brie. I had never roasted beets before, nor had I eaten many of them, but I thought it sounded both pretty and peculiar enough to give it a try. And as is the way of some of the very best dishes it was delicious even if previously untested. I fell hard and I couldn’t blame it just on the wine. The relationship didn’t last but my love affair with beets is still going strong — and I am ever so glad.

Beets, like love of course, come in many shapes and colors and sizes. I’m partial to yellow beets myself, tiny and tender. Or those sort of rose-gold ones, similar to what I ate in Maine from the farm, just steamed whole and dripped in melted butter. Or baby beets, small and sweet. Or, yes, the dark red, true-love kind — honestly, whatever my favorite farmer has at his stand I’ll snap up quick as I can. I am, simply, just crazy about them.

Love, it’s true, can slide in when you least expect it — the sun may slant a certain way and suddenly you see things differently than you ever have before. It can arrive on a bright morning when you’re perched on a hill overlooking the vast expanse of the Pacific, a whale turning and spouting out past the breakers; by June they should be well on their way south so it’s an unexpected gift and you don’t want ever to be anywhere else. Perhaps it comes on a day when the air feels charged with blue and the coming of fall and it’s just a day like any other — except it’s not.

Or maybe you eat one perfect bunch of beets, roasted melting and sweet to slip swiftly down past heart and stomach, and everything changes, just like that.

Some Ways to Eat Beets

– Roasted, for about 45 minutes to an hour, on 400 F. When tender, remove from oven and let cool. Slip off skins and slice as thick or fine as you like. Strew through salads or just savor as-is.

– Raw, shaved into salads

– Roasted, then sliced very thinly and wound with 1 cup radicchio, 1/4 cup crumbled feta, a handful of walnuts

– Souped, but that’s not my favorite and thus will leave that up to epicurious

– With oranges or tangerines and chopped pistachios

– Stacked, with blue cheese and sorrel

– As carpaccio, with shaved Parmesan

  • Amanda 23 July 2009 at 8:33 am

    Wonderful love story. I love the idea of stacked beets.

    I live in Northern Indiana. Beets do grow here in the summer, but since they store well, i never buy them in the summer when tomatoes, eggplant, fennel and other limited-time bounty is accessable. No, b/c I try to eat mostly local produce, it is mainly beets, squash, pumpkins & potatoes that sustain me through the winter. It’s a very good thing I like all of those roots.

    I never slip the skins off. i only ever cut off any very rough-looking edges and then roast. I never think they’re coarse when finished.

  • Roz (bella) 22 July 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Hi foodie friend, I just found your blog on food blog alliance and logged on. As I was scrolling down through your beautiful photos, I came upon your post on beets. I would like to invite you to try my family’s favorite way to prepare beets in a salad….on my blog, but can’t remember the date of post. There’s an index though. I think you will like it. I am going to begin also following your blog and put it on my sidebar. I am very impressed! Roz (bella)

  • lillie 20 July 2009 at 10:06 am

    yum! i love beets and LOVE this post.

  • Miri 19 July 2009 at 6:32 am

    I love the first sentence of this post! LOVE it!

  • kate. 17 July 2009 at 2:42 pm

    this is my very favorite post ever. and maybe beets are, too. soon i will make tiny cookie cutter beet sandwiches. AND i do have a tiny heart-shaped cookie cutter. divine.