Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beet it.

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.


  • 3 medium beets, scrubbed, stems and root ends trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Place the beets on a large piece of aluminum foil and drizzle

with a T olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and fold the

foil into a pouch. Roast the beets inside the pouch

until tender, about 45 minutes.

When the beets are done roasting, remove them from

the pouch and let cool for a few minutes. When they're

cool enough to handle, lightly rub the outside of them with

a paper towel to remove the skins. Transfer the beets to

a food processor and puree them until smooth. Reserve

the puree until the risotto is finished cooking.

Bring the water and stock to a boil in a saucepot, then

reduce heat to low to keep warm.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 T

olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, and butter. Add the onions and

garlic, and sauté until the onions begin to get tender,

4-5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and toast it in the pan,

stirring constantly with the veggies, 2-3 minutes more.

Add wine or sherry and cook until the liquid has

absorbed, about 1 minute. Ladle about a third of the

stock or broth into the pan with the rice and bring it up

to a bubble, stirring constantly. Simmer the mixture,

stirring frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed,

about 5 minutes. Ladle another third of the remaining

liquid and continue stirring the rice until that liquid

has fully absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Ladle in half of the

remaining stock and stir the rice another 4-5 minutes.

Add in the beet puree and the rest of the stock and

cook an additional 4-5 minutes, until the rice is

al dente. Season with salt, pepper, and cheese.

Put in tupperware and bring to the park to share with

beet-loving friends!


  1. Not just pickled! In France you can buy them pre-cooked (probably boiled). Then you toss them with a good vinaigrette and voila! Also good with balsamic vinegar and feta (or other goat) cheese. However, don't waste your time on that Russian soup I can't spell. (borstz?)

  2. Oh yes, I have had borscht! I got some from this Russian restaurant by my work. I never even considered making that though.

  3. It's probably a version of borscht, but it's from Lithuania and called saltibarsciai. I had it the first time when I was in Lithuania and found it delicious, also the best food to cool you down in this terrible hot weather. I can send you the recipe if you think you're that courageous. :)

  4. Sure, send it on! I currently don't have a recipe for saltibarsciai. Or any Lithuanian soups, really.

  5. I had pickled beets in an eating new foods exercise with some toddlers. I must say, they aren't bad. The kids preferred them to the kiwi, actually, but these are the same kids who eat dirt, so who can judge?