Off the Beet(en) Path

IMG_9337It has been about six years since I really started to take food seriously as both a diner and a cook. In that time, I am afraid I have turned into a bit of a snob. I am the girl who shows up to a girl’s weekend with my own fruits and vegetables for the pantry so that I am not forced to eat the packaged goods on site. Or the one who brings side dishes to a non-potluck dinner party so I am assured food that will taste good because I made it. Or the lady who does not do lunch because I am not a dame who can sit around and gossip over artisanal salads, preferring to spend my food budget on new and exciting top chefs in diverse kitchens. Holidays and social occasions that cannot be avoided, which revolve around food, consist of me grazing the crudite platter), waiting for the moment later when I might get home to some real food. I simply enjoy food so much now that I don’t want to waste calories eating things that don’t titillate me to my core and if I have tried it before, chances are I don’t need to try it again. For even if I love a dish, there are so many other dishes to try in my lifetime why bother repeating something I have already had? For the record, I am not one to watch movies more than once either, even if I adore them, because there isn’t enough time as it is on this planet to see everything I wish to.

So when there is an ingredient that I really love I am faced with the perpetual challenge of continually finding new ways to work with it. Beets are a prime example. I love them, and like everyone else in the 1990s, saw them exhausted within a sea of goat cheese and pinola salads prior to becoming one of those over-roasted and wilted tubers glazed in balsamic and sea salt on many a tapas menu in the 2000s. A few years back, while still single, I ashamedly and lazily spent many a dinner hour spooning pre-cooked beets whole from the laminated Trader Joe’s packages in the ready-made deli section into my mouth on the couch with some wine. Because of this, I had recently all but deleted them from my repertoire until I got a hankering for them last weekend after a particularly grueling hike. I didn’t want to just boil and chop and serve in one of the pre-mentioned applications so I scoured Food and Wine magazine’s archives for a twist on the beet-cheese-appetizer combo.

I was delighted by what I found—a starter on multigrain toast that made white flour bread bruschettas pale in comparison. The heartier loaf held up to the infamous, staining and sopping beet juice. The pre-glazing of the boiled beets prior to piling them underneath creamy burrata added a rich and tangy, buttery flavor to the bite that pulled everything together. Eaten as a yummy beginning to an afternoon long feast that included marinated tomato bibb salad and yogurt marinated lamb chops, these beets proved that everything can be improved upon in perpetuity with a little ingenuity and thinking out of the ordinary box.

Glazed Beet and Burrata Toasts
3 beets (about 3/4 pound total)
4 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 rosemary sprig
Twelve 4-by-2-inch slices of dense whole-grain bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted
1/2 pound burrata cheese, cut into 12 pieces
12 small watercress sprigs
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flaky salt, such as Maldon, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, cover the beets with cold water. Add the thyme sprigs, black peppercorns and red wine vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, until the beets are tender, about 45 minutes, replenishing the water if necessary. Drain the beets, then peel and cut them into 1/4-inch dice.

Return the diced beets to the saucepan. Add the sherry vinegar, sugar, rosemary sprig and 1/4 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat until a syrupy glaze forms, about 12 minutes. Discard the rosemary sprig and season the beets with salt.

Top each whole-grain toast with a spoonful of the glazed beets, a piece of burrata and a sprig of watercress. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, garnish with the flaky salt and serve.

NOTE: I didn’t have sherry vinegar so ended up using white wine vinegar. I also substituted gray sea salt for the more expensive Maldon.


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