On Your Mark, Get Set: Beet It
By Kara Rota
One of the greatest rewards of cooking with local produce is the fantastic array of striking colors and textures that make constructing meals a truly artistic enterprise. Prompted by Brianna’s pairing of beets and goat cheese in her Sun Beet Salad, I decided to stick with her perfect match for my RecipeRelay this week. The sugar content and earthiness in these scarlet root vegetables matches well with the creamy tang of chèvre, and the inevitable stain of bright pink juice is one of my favorite sensory cooking experiences. When you cook with beets, you’re committing to a cutting board and ten cuticles dyed crimson long after the meal is eaten. This characteristic makes for a striking contrast with bright white chèvre. I started brainstorming a visually compelling dish. After a fair number of April showers in New York that overstayed their welcome, we’re finally getting the gorgeous springtime weather I’ve been waiting for, and all of the promised May flowers along with it. I took inspiration from these fuchsia, magenta, and rose-colored blooms, deciding to use the tendency of beets to tint everything they touch with a bloody hue to my advantage.
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As I set off to find some locally sourced beets, I kept in mind the fact that the greens atop the vegetable’s roots, often discarded, are flavorful and tender sauteed in a little olive oil with garlic. My first stop was the Whole Foods near my office in Tribeca, where I asked about the origin of the beets and attached greens that were on offer. I’ll admit that I don’t limit my cooking to seasonal ingredients nearly as often as I should, and I felt more than a little eccentric asking detailed questions about the provenance of produce. Worth noting too is the fact that individuals working in produce departments seem equally ill-equipped to respond. After consulting with two other team members, I learned that the beets at Whole Foods were imported from California. There was a serendipitous upside, though: under a large “LOCAL” sign at the front of the store, I discovered $1.99 bundles of fresh asparagus from Maugeri Farms in Swedesboro in Gloucester County, NJ – the same south Jersey county where I was born!