Beets are my favorite root vegetable. My favorite to grow in our back yard, and my favorite to chow down on come the cooler months. They have, I have to say, been one of our great successes in the yard. We aren’t experienced gardeners, especially when it comes to vegetables. Many things have died from either our neglect or over attention, but beets have never been one of them. The seeds we sowed this year even survived a ridiculously wet spring and early summer that left most of our other crops bait for slugs. Each year we grow a couple of different varieties, some golden, some of the standard red ones and my personal favorite the chioggia beet. The chioggia is hands down the prettiest beet in the patch. I love how they look simple and beetish in the ground. You pick them and the slightly more red/orange root still looks like a standard beet, albeit a slightly odd colored one. But once you cut in to one raw and see the magnificent strips of brightly colored flesh you are sold. Unfortunately they loose some of that when cooked, however – which just means they should be eaten raw more often. For some reason it always reminds me of cutting in to a watermelon radish, a similar spectacular display of colors and patterns.
I can, and have, eat a roasted beet straight out of the pan with a little olive oil and really good salt when I was meant to be cooking them for a family meal. That is frankly my favorite way to eat the things. It feels like you are having a midnight feast of chocolate, only far far healthier. A recipe of such limited description however doesn’t make for a good blog post and sometimes it is nice to put on those great Italian shoes instead of functional work boots.
A while ago I discovered the joys of horseradish root. More correctly it paired with smoked fish. Trout in fact, if I remember correctly. Ever since then I have tried grating some of the root over lots of different things. My second favorite next to fish has to be over beets. When paired with something cooling (creme fraiche does the job here) you get this remarkable earthy yet robust complex and fresh flavor coming out of it all. I decided to push all this much more fall-like (if beets aren’t enough already) and throw in some hazelnuts into the mix as well. These are, without question, my favorite of all nuts. To my total happiness we happen to have a filbert tree right outside our house. To my despair we also have a whole army of rather vicious squirrels that seem to like them as much as I. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says, in one of his books, “if you want to find a hazelnut tree follow a squirrel. If you want any hazelnuts, shoot the squirrel”. Well, I don’t have a gun and I think it might possibly be illegal to shoot the tree rats here in Seattle. With this in mind when I want hazelnuts I have to forget about climbing a tree and pop down to the store instead.
This dish needed a little more acidity when tasted, so I decided to toss in some preserved lemon too. I opened the jar of my lemons sitting in salt only to find that it was in fact a jar of lemon flavored salt. It had appeared I had used all the lemons. Not to worry, sitting right next to it on the shelf was my jar of preserved limes. I had been waiting to use these until the best moment – perhaps this would be it. Turns out, it was. They have more complexity than a preserved lime and work wonderfully well with the beets, toasted hazelnuts, creme fraiche and horseradish.
I wanted a little herbage in there, so at the last minute decided to put some dill fronds on as well. I really like dill with beets (I like dill with almost anything being honest) and especially the lovely creme fraiche. This might all seem like there is a jolly lot going on in this dish – far more than usual on my blog. Why yes, yes there is – however it all works together very well – complimentary flavors that each add a little nuance (if I wanted to sound all poncy)
oh crap, nearly forgot.. this would make a great side for the Yank Turkey Day that is quickly descending on us..
Roast Beets with Creme Fraiche, hazelnuts, preserved citrus and dill
4-5 medium to small sized beets
1 small tub of creme fraiche (you won’t use it all..)
1 small preserved lemon or lime
1 handful of hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed
1 small horseradish root for grating
hazelnut oil (really good olive oil at a pinch)
sea salt, and some really good sea salt to finish
a small handful of very fresh dill fronds
Preheat oven to 375F. Scrub the beets and remove any stems and leaves. Keep those for a nice salad, or wilt and have with rice and eggs. Put the beets in a roasting pan with a good glug of average olive oil, a splash or two of water and a large pinch of salt. Toss the beets to coat. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or longer, until the beets are tender when pierced with a knife.
Remove the beets when cooked and allow to cool until OK to handle. Rub the skins off the beets with a towel. Cut the beets into wedges through the center of the beet. Slice if you wish, I don’t care, I just think wedges look nicer.
Scoop out the guts of the preserved lemon and discard. Finely chop one half of it and finely slice the other half. Mix the finely chopped half with 4 tablespoons of hazelnut oil and let sit.
Coarsely chop the hazelnuts.
Put the beets in a large bowl. Toss in the hazelnuts and dill fronds and some of the slices of preserved citrus. Pour in the hazelnut oil mixture. Toss with your hands to gently combine.
Take a few very large tablespoon scoops of creme fraiche and put them in a bowl. Beet it with the spoon until smooth, then spread this in to the center of two plates. Serve the dressed beets over the top, making sure to get a decent amount of the hazelnut oil dressing on the plates too.
Finish the plate with a good grating of horseradish and sprinkle of top notch sea salt.