This is a post I never thought I would be writing. Growing up, the question of beets (to eat or not to eat?) was a contentious one in my house. My parents were always deeply divided in their opinions on this ruby root vegetable. My mom believed in boiling them or (god forbid) eating them pickled and my dad found them wholly disgusting. For our parts, my sister and I sided with our father, erring on the side of not eating vegetables where permissible. This beet-phobia has stuck with me long after I expanded my eating habits beyond the bounds of grilled cheese sandwiches. Some readers may remember my vegetable blog from a couple of years ago and note beets were among those veggies never friended.
Now, I can't say I've never had beets. I've eaten them in small quantities in salads before at restaurants that I judged too fancy to pick them out. However, I must confess at 25 years of age, I had never had a whole beet in my possession. All of this changed last week.
A couple of months ago I joined a farm share here in my fair neighborhood. Astoria has a couple of community supported agriculture groups, and I'd always toyed with the idea of joining one. I feel like my vegetable horizons are somewhat limited. I know how to make a few things, and generally avoid those vegetables I'm not sure what to do with. Also, I'm terribly incompetent when it comes to eating with the seasons. I was hoping the farm share would cure all these ills. The real kicker came when I realized the distribution point for one of the farm shares was a mere two blocks from my apartment. Thanks to this serendipity, I am now a proud member of Harvest Astoria and will be getting a selection of locally grown, organic produce every Wednesday from now until November.
But back to the beets. Naturally, one of the components from my very first week was: 3 beets. I was conflicted at first. A part of me wanted to immediately hide them in something. I'd heard of beets being successfully concealed in cakes or, better yet, donuts. I wanted to do this, but something gave me pause. While I knew I wasn't ready to boil and eat beets straight, or even chopped on a salad, I didn't want to cowardly retreat from my first CSA challenge. In the end, I took the middle road. I made a beet risotto.
The spoils. For the record, this is before I washed them.
I adapted a recipe from Rachel Ray so that I could use not only the beets, but some of the garlic and onions that we also got from the farm that week. I'll add the full recipe below. It involved whole roasting the beets in the oven before pulverizing them into submission in the food processor to make a brilliant pink puree.
Pink puree. Formerly beets.
One of the reasons people make risotto with beets is apparently for the beautiful color. For some reason (perhaps revenge of the beet gods for years of vitriol?), mine didn't achieve that. It started out a lovely deep red, but as I cooked it, it mellowed into more of a maroon, and finally ended with a sullen grey. Not unlike mushroom risotto really.
Not quite as showy as it might be...
I was making it in the morning to take to a picnic in Bryant Park, but I did make sure to try it while warm. Not bad. Mostly what came through was the creaminess of the risotto with a slight earthy undertone from the beets. It was tasty, although to be honest I probably would have enjoyed it just as much without the beets. Also, the dish held up surprisingly well in my office refrigerator all day and was enjoyed immensely by picnicking friends who all told me they couldn't even taste the beets. I guess they lack my keen palate and beet-honing skills.
Overall, I feel a fear was appropriately faced. Next time I see them on the farm share roster, I won't feel a moment's pause. I might even try eating them without any sort of cloaking device. Or I might just embrace defeat and make a batch of pink donuts. Only time will tell.