Updated: Sep 17, 2018
I often find inspiration and creativity by approaching a single ingredient and thinking about how many ways I can prepare that one thing. My most classic example is a dish called "Beets 5 Ways" that I've been doing for years and will continue to do so because people LOVE it. It's a signature dish of sorts and its success is built on a foundation of several concepts:
*It's an ingredient most people enjoy (beets are hot right now)
*It seems new and interesting because it's an old idea, modernized
*It's complexity lies in technique and execution
*There are no more than five ingredients on the plate (excluding salt)
*It makes people think
The dish is visually appealing, featuring different varieties of beets that lend their different shades of color and distinct flavor characteristics. It creates something that should, in theory, be one dimensional, yet is somehow deep and complex. The components of the dish include roasted beets, pickled beets, raw beets, beet puree and beet chips. In the version you see above, the plate is finished with fresh ricotta cheese and hazelnut-brown butter crumble. The dish is tangy, salty, earthy, fatty, fresh and delicious. I like to finish the dish with some good, grassy Extra Virgin Olive oil and flaky sea salt. It hits all the notes a hungry diner is looking for in an eating experience.
I like to use a variety of beets for color and added visual effect and you should be able to find baby chiogga, yellow, red and even white beets in decent a supermarket, but don't let an inability of finding different varieties stop you from going out and experimenting on your own. Below are the basic recipes I use to execute this dish but again, don't hesitate to try something new and make it your own!
I like to "pre-season" my roasted beets so they come out of the oven ready to eat. Technically speaking, the beets undergo a slight "braising" process because I add a significant amount of liquid to the pan and cover it in order to keep the beets from over cooking and becoming dry.
1) Trim beet tops from beets and wash thoroughly. Place in roasting pan with large enough edges to hold beets and added liquid.
2) Place garlic, lots of thyme, bay leaves and orange slices in pan with beets. The more garlic and thyme you add the more flavor the beets will have so don't be shy, you're going to discard them later.
3) Add enough water to the pan to rise about half way up the height of the beets. Add apple cider vinegar at a ratio of about 25% of your total water quantity.
4)Add several large pinches of salt. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil to trap in moisture.
5) Bake at 350F-375F for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes or until you can pierce the beets easily with a knife and the beet slides off easily.
6) Let cool uncovered at room temperature until you can handle them with your hands. Wearing gloves (because your hands will be stained for days) delicately peel the beets and reserve them in a container for later use.
The pickled beets in this dish bring the acid component and counter balance to the earthiness of the beets. A simple pickle is best, because I want the flavor of the beet to be the star of the show. I like to use white balsamic vinegar in this circumstance because the vinegar is naturally sweet and there is no need for added sugar.
Medium Sized beet - 1
White Balsamic Vinegar - 1/2 cup
Salt - 1.5 Tbsp
1) Shave peeled beets paper thin on a mandolin or cut into very small squares.
2) Bring vinegar and salt mixture to a boil and pour over beet slices.
3) Allow beets to steep and cool to room temperature before putting into air tight container for storage.
Again, were striving for simplicity in this one so we let the beets shine. There are only three ingredients in the beet puree, making it a clean, delicious representative of beets.
Peeled, Medium Sized Beets (color of your choice) - 4 or about 1.5 pounds
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 0.5 cup
Salt - 1 teaspoon (to taste)
Reserved Cooking Liquid - 0.25 cup
1) Place peeled beets in sauce pot and put enough water in the pan to barely cover. Add a pinch of salt to the pot and turn on high heat. Bring to a boil then slightly reduce heat and allow to cook at a high simmer.
2) Boil beets until very tender, roughly thirty minutes or until the beets are soft and fork tender.
3) Strain beets from liquid, making sure to keep 0.25 cups of the cooking liquid.
4) Put boiled beets, 0.25 cups of cooking liquid and salt in a blender (Vita Mix).
5) Turn the blender on high and allow the boiled beets and reserved juice to combine into a puree.
6) Once the mixture starts to become a homogenous liquid, slowly drizzle in the 0.5 cups of extra virgin olive oil, making sure to drizzle the oil into the blender so emulsification can take place.
7)Pass the puree through a strainer (shouldn't have to if you have a good blender) and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Raw Shaved Beets
In all honestly, I think raw beets are disgusting. They taste like dirt. In order to make them delicious and palatable I dress clean, thinly sliced beets in a little salt, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. It cleans the flavors up and takes the "dirt" out of them.
Medium sized beet, washed thoroughly - 2
Salt - to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1 Tbsp
Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice - 1 teaspoon
1) Wash beets thoroughly
2) Slice beets on mandolin as this as you can possibly get them.
3) Place beets slices in bowl and combine with salt, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and allow to marinate covered, in the refrigerator for at least fifteen minutes.
4) Once marinated, drain beets of excess liquid and store in airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. You will want to use these beets the same day you prep them because they will get soggy and nasty after too much time.
Crispy beet chips are probably my favorite way of enjoying beets. A crunchy textural element is added through frying and the beets maintain their sweetness through the process. It is super important to follow the necessary steps in the recipe below because beets are temperamental in a deep fryer. If you fry them at too high a temperature, they will burn because of all of the sugar present in them. If you don't soak them and dry them appropriately, you will yield a soggy chip with no crunch.
Beets (separated by color) - 5
Salt - to taste
Oil for frying
1) Slice beets on mandolin, and cut them at a slightly thicker setting then you used for the raw beets. In this circumstance, you want a little thicker cut to help the beet withstand the frying process and maintain its structure.
2) Place sliced beets into a container and soak in plenty of water for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Soaking the beet slices will pull out extra starches and sugars from the beets and make a crispy, crunchy final product.
3) DRY BEETS THOROUGHLY! This is the most important step. Place your soaked, sliced beets on a sheet tray lined with paper towels and allow to dry as much as possible. A dry beet going into the deep fryer equals a crunchy chip in your final product.
4) Fry beets in batches at 300F stirring occasionally to make sure they are not sticking to one another. Fry for roughly 5 minutes or until crispy.
5) Drain chips on sheet tray lined with paper towels and season with salt. Allow to drain and cool THOROUGHLY. You can store chips in an air tight container.
At this point, you have all of the elements needed to make a delicious dish but some added flavors will help round things out into a complete, balanced expression. In the photo above, the beets are finished with some home made ricotta cheese and crumbled "dirt" made from browned butter and hazelnuts. Obviously, you can make this dish your own or make it vegan by adding other flavor components, but for the sake of this recipe, home made ricotta cheese and hazelnut-browned butter crumble recipes are below. Again, I encourage you to experiment with other flavor profiles and make it your own.
Home Made Ricotta
Fresh Ricotta is more delicate in flavor than the store bought stuff. It is easy to make and provides a fatty, neutral backdrop for the beets.
Fresh Whole Milk - 2 quarts
Fresh, High Fat Heavy Cream - 1 cup
Salt - 0.5 teaspoons
Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice - 3 to 5 Tablespoons
Fine Mesh Cheesecloth
1) Line a large sieve or colander with two layers of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.
2) Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to 180 degrees Fahrenheit in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Once the milk mixture reaches 180F, remove from the heat and allow to rest at room temperature for five minutes. After the elapsed time, add lemon juice and stir gently to make sure the lemon juice is dispersed evenly. The mixture will curdle. Let the mixture rest for at least ten minutes to allow for full separation and the formation of cheese curds.
3) Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain for 1 hour for creamier ricotta and overnight for a dryer, crumbly cheese. After the liquid is drained, chill the ricotta, covered. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days. For added creaminess, you can add fresh heavy cream back into the strained cheese curds for some extra decadence.
4) Season with salt to taste.
Brown Butter Crumbles with Toasted Hazelnuts
I LOVE this technique. The process allows you to add the toasty flavors of brown butter to a dish in a solid form, avoiding pools of fat on a plate. Another benefit to this technique is that you will yield two distinct products from one recipe, brown butter crumbles AND clarified brown butter. It's a no brainer. 99.9% of the time I use unsalted butter when cooking in order to control salt levels. This is the 0.01% however and salted butter yields a perfectly seasoned final product that is hard to match.
Butter (salted) - 150 grams
Dry, nonfat milk powder - 50 grams
Hazelnuts - 100 grams
1) Toast hazelnuts in a 300F oven until deep, rich golden brown in color. You want to toast the nuts as much as possible without wandering into the burnt and bitter realm. Toasting nuts at 300F is a good way to ensure a nice slow toast while not having to hover over the oven worrying about burning your nuts.
2) Once toasted, allow to cool to room temperature. You want to thoroughly cool your toasted nuts because you are going to pulse them into a fine crumble. If the nuts are hot, you will be more likely to create hazelnut butter than hazelnut crumble.
3) Once nuts are thoroughly cooled, pulse in a food processor or robot coupe until the texture of grainy sand. Set aside.
4) In a clean sauce pot on the stove, heat butter until boiling.
5) Whisking continuously, add dry milk powder to pot and drop heat to a simmer.
6) Continue to stir and cook milk powder until it starts to turn golden brown. The color will continue to darken even after straining, so make sure you keep a close eye on the pot. You want to cook the solids until they are golden brown and pull them IMMEDIATELY.
7) Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl CAREFULLY because it is extremely hot. Allow milk solids to drain for several minutes and collect liquid butter underneath. The milk solids will continue to develop color.
8) Spread the solids on a sheet tray lined with paper towels and allow to cool and drain completely. Reserve the browned butter solids and clarified brown butter separately (make sure you save the clarified brown butter because that stuff if gold).
9) In a food processor or bowl, pulse together browned butter solids and toasted hazelnuts until thoroughly combined. Store in an airtight container.
Smear a decent amount of fresh ricotta on the bottom of a plate and place roasted and pickled beets in an orderly fashion on top. Around the beets, place several pools of beet puree and top with the sliced raw beets. To finish, add hazelnut-brown butter crunch around the base and top with beet chips and beet micro greens. Finish everything off with a nice drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and flaky salt. ENJOY!