Everyday my son notices what he calls “signs of spring.” We’re out for a walk and he hears birds chirping, a sign they’re back from their winter home. Here’s the shoot of a crocus, over there is a glimmer of red peeking out from under the leaves.
Unfortunately, we won’t have signs of spring in the kitchen for a while. At least not here in Colorado, where farmers are busy planting but not yet harvesting. True, there are hoop houses and the like to supply restaurants with herbs and greens, but as I think about fresh, local produce at farmers markets or in bins at Whole Foods, I know my wait isn’t over.
So while my heart (and my son’s) may be in the spring, my head remains in winter. I’m still finding new ways to use the local root vegetables that have been arriving from my farm share every two weeks since last fall. One recent success is a beet gratin. Don’t worry, not all gratins are full of cream and cheese, though I’ve made several of those lately too and will share recipes later (butternut squash and leeks, yum). This recipe is lighter, with just enough cheese on top to cut the beets’ earthy sweetness.
Speaking of which, I have friends who object to these bright red roots because they’re too sweet. But serve them with goat cheese, parsley, salt and pepper and they become a luxurious side dish, especially when paired with steak.
Since beets aren’t much fun to handle, I suggest making twice as many as you need for one night, then freezing the rest. That’s what I did, and when I wanted to make this dish I just pulled the bag out of the freezer, let them thaw, and then jumped into the instructions one step ahead of the game.
My other advice is to scrub beets, leaving on their tails and an inch of their tops, and wrap them individually in foil. Roast them at 400 for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on size, and let them cool in the foil until ready to use. The skins will slip off easily and the mess is nowhere near as great as when beets are boiled or, even worse, grated raw.
Beet and Goat Cheese Gratin
Like many SeedtoSpoon recipes, this is more technique than recipe, designed to get you thinking about your own ingredients and how you like things to taste. Feel free to use more or less cheese, parsley, bread crumbs, etc. And use as many beets as you think you or your guests will eat. I used four for 2 adults and 3 kids.
Take 4 large beets, cut off all but an inch of their tops, and scrub well. Wrap individually in foil and roast at 400 until tender, about 40-60 minutes. Meanwhile, take 1 tablespoon butter and let it melt over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add fine white bread crumbs and stir until the mixture looks like wet sand (if it’s too dry, add more butter; too wet, add more crumbs). Cook, stirring occasionally, until bread crumbs are toasted. Remove from heat.
When beets are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off with a knife, slice off the tails and cut into wedges. Season with kosher salt and pepper, toss with chopped parsley, and put into a small buttered gratin dish. Top with dollops of goat cheese. Put under the broiler just until the cheese melts and gets a tiny bit golden around the edges. Sprinkle with homemade bread crumbs and serve immediately.