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Can't be beet

April 26, 2010 | 11:13 am

IMG_0540 I think it’s been pretty well established by now that as a vegetable gardener, I’m a pretty good cook. As if I needed another reminder, the other day, I went out to tend to the last of my winter vegetable beds and, finally, harvest some Swiss chard that had never quite come along as I’d hoped. The color was good, the leaves were great, but the stalks never got beyond twig-size. When I started working on it, the reason quickly became obvious: It wasn’t chard at all, but beets. Boy, were they beets, nearly softball-sized by now. I pulled one and it weight almost 1 3/4 pounds.

What can you do with something like that? Well, I wasn’t going to compost it, so I thought I’d go ahead and cook it and see what happened. It would probably turn out to be mostly wood, but I was just going to throw it out anyway, right?

So I wrapped it in foil, put it on a cookie sheet and stuck it in a 350-degree oven (I usually roast beets at 400 degrees, but those beets are usually the size of Ping-Pong balls — I figured the lower heat would allow it to cook through to the center before scorching the outside). It took a couple of hours before it tested done, a paring knife slipping in easily. It was late by then so I let it cool overnight.

The next day, I stripped away the peel with my fingers and cut away a thin slice to taste. To my shock, it was amazing! All that time in the ground had resulted in a deep, dark sweetness. It was like a regular beet to the 10th degree.

I cut it in half and sliced it into a fine dice, tossed it with arugula and crumbled goat cheese, dressed it with olive oil, minced shallots and red wine vinegar and then seasoned it with salt and a LOT of black pepper (I love beets and pepper). The flavor was terrific. And half a beet was enough to make main course salads for two of us.

Best of all, I’ve still got half a dozen in the garden. Unless some of them do turn out to be chard after all. I know I planted it somewhere.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Russ Parsons / Los Angeles Times