By Deirdre Bourdet
The avalanche of autumn produce in our markets is a sure sign that fall is here, notwithstanding some freak summer flashback days. Pumpkins, squashes, apples, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and beets of every color beckon with their earthy sweetness and sexy dark green leaves.
Like everyone else I hated the canned beets of my childhood, but I’ve since grown to love the silken texture, rich flavor, and eye-popping colors of the real deal. Beet greens also rank among my favorite leafy green vegetables of all time, but only appear in good shape in fall and winter. Easy to clean and quick-cooking, they taste like a more tender, earthier version of chard. Since you typically get the beet greens for free with the beetroot, a bunch of beets is also one of the best produce deals out there.
I am lazy so I typically roast beets whole, washed and trimmed of the stems but with the skin still on. If you wrap them individually in foil you can throw them on a baking sheet for an hour at 400 and save yourself some serious cleanup–the baking sheet stays clean, and the skins slide right off with your fingers once cooked. My favorite technique with the beet greens is to sauté them like spinach in olive oil with tons of minced garlic, black pepper, and some fennel seeds if I’m feeling fancy. (Beets and fennel/anise have a great affinity, and make a great salad combination.)
I just got back from New Zealand, where people put beets on everything. The country’s unofficial official burger dish has sliced red beets and a fried egg as well as cheese, lettuce, onion and tomato–sheer genius! Besides a brilliant burger topping, beets make fantastic relishes, salads, and salad garnishes–but beware their maroon ambition. I tend to put red beets into dark-colored dishes (e.g. sautéed greens, lentils) so their stain doesn’t scare the squeamish, but for Halloween, go wild. The more bloody-colored food, the better.