Last week when I bought my first bunch of little beets from the farmer’s market in West Allis, I had no idea what they would become. As the sole beet eater in my house, I often have mixed feelings when I see my favorite vegetables of all time. I grew up in a family of beet lovers, ruby roots making their way often to our table boiled or roasted, or pickled in spicy brine. It almost makes me ache that my own family wants nothing to do with them.
The beets I found at the market were small actually, but they boasted huge and flawless greens, which are every bit as healthy and delicious as the beetroot itself. Two dollars lighter, I brought home my rubberbanded bunch and began scheming for ideas...
A quick google search revealed this tagline from the New York Times: "Beet Recipes Even a Beet Hater Can Love." I didn’t hold much hope that the staunch beet haters in my house would buy into it, but the gratin I looked at sure convinced me that I needed to make it right away. It makes use of the entire beet, has a good amount of protein from a couple of eggs, and can be served hot, cold or room temperature – much like the quiche-like strata I recently wrote about.
A gratin is defined by Alan Davidson as a French noun that in as early as the 16th century referred to “that part of a cooked dish which stuck to the pot or pan and had to be scraped (gratte) off if it was not to be wasted.” Like most culinary things, the term gratin has evolved over time, but most always it means that the vegetable was sliced and baked with a small amount of cheese (or that cheese was dusted over the top prior to baking, as in the term ‘au gratin’) and that the top was baked until crispy or well-browned. That definition of gratin translates well in my mind; not one morsel of this dish will be wasted.
Beet Gratin (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, The New York Times)
Yield: 1 8-inch round pie plate, double for a 9x9 square pan or similar gratin pan
1 lb. beets, trimmed but left whole
12 oz. beet greens, washed with stems left on
1 t. red chile flakes (more to taste)
1-2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
6 T. milk
3 T. chives, chopped finely
1 T. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Roast the beets in a 400 degree oven (in a covered casserole dish or pie plate covered with foil, with an inch of water in the bottom) until tender, 30-60 minutes depending on size. My little beets were done in 30 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle, then scrape the peels off. Slice into uniform slices, 1/8-1/4 inch depending on your preference. Put the beet slices in a medium sized bowl. Reduce oven heat to 375
While the beets are roasting, blanch the greens by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil and dunking the greens in it for one minute. Remove the greens to a bowl of ice water for one minute, then drain in a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as you can by hand. Chop the greens coarsely.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil and the sliced garlic. When the pan is hot and the garlic has started to sizzle, add the beet greens and chile flakes and stir about one minute until dried out and cooked a little bit. Season with salt and pepper, more chile if you like. Move the beet greens into the bowl with the sliced beets.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, chives, vinegar and shredded cheese. Pour the mixture over the beets/beet greens and toss well to combine. Pour the mixture into the oiled baking dish and bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes, until it is set and lightly browned on top. Cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
I can’t vouch that the beet haters will change a staunch mind, but I have a feeling the adventurous beet hater could be swayed. I think you could substitute any number of interesting cheeses for the Balsamic BellaVitano. Blue (or bleu) cheese is one of my favorite flavors with beets, as is strong sheep milk feta. I think the important thing is not to overload the dish with cheese (which I know is easy to do, being a born and bred Wisconsinite), and let the true vegetable flavor shine through.
However you end up adapting it, this is one beet dish that will stand the test of summer, and carry you right through until Fall with delicious, nutrient-rich confidence!