Monday, April 26, 2021
Beets didn’t play a significant role in the cuisine of my childhood. The only mention of beets came from Saturday morning cartoons, with their depiction as a form of punishment. It was not until my experience in the classrooms and kitchens at the Culinary Institute of America that I first encountered the variety and versatility of the vegetable. Cooking and tasting the beets using different techniques for different varieties—from red and golden to candy stripe and chioggia—and using them in different preparations, filled a void left from my prior lack of utilization of this humble root vegetable.
This dish utilizes fully grown and baby varieties of red, golden, and chioggia beets. The baby beets lend themselves best to the roasting technique, as their size requires less cooking time, which ensures a consistent texture throughout. Coat the beets with olive oil, and sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until tender, approximately 20 minutes. In terms of aesthetic approach, the baby beets lend themselves to a beautiful form, requiring minimal manipulation.
Full-sized adult beets usually excel in a liquid based cooking medium as the layers of the beets will be much more likely to cook simultaneously. Red beets also produce a beautiful, flavorful and abundant supply of beet juice. Reduce some of the beet juice down to a glaze to create a luxurious beet “paint” which can decoratively grace the final plate with style and flavor. The reserved juice becomes the base of a delicious pistachio and beet vinaigrette when reduced, combined with Dijon mustard, and blended with pistachio oil.
The full-size beets will be thinly sliced on a mandolin and neatly cut with a ring cutter into perfect circles to dot the plate. The sliced and roasted baby beets will all be anointed with the beet-pistachio vinaigrette. Some of the golden beets lend their flavor and color to a delicious concoction with chevre goat cheese. Puree a few adult golden beets and fold the golden puree into the chevre goat cheese—lightened with heavy cream—to create an extraordinarily bright and sensual spread to add acid and richness to the salad. Some large red beets are also pureed and mixed with a bit of Fourme d’Ambert, a French Bleu cheese, that must be heated in cream and blended thoroughly to add an additional layer of astringent depth to the plate.
Swiss chard is an elegant leafy green with a crispy crunchy freshness held within the stalk attached at the bottom. The greens are mild in flavor with beetroot undertones and will serve a dual purpose for this dish. Julienne some of the greens and toss with the pistachio beet vinaigrette. More of the greens are cut into larger pieces, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and slowly baked in a low oven until a chip consistency is achieved. The beautiful radiant stems of rainbow swiss chard are beaming with brightness, bursting with crispness, and blessed with subtle beet flavor. Carefully peel the stems and Cryovac the yellow stems with a mixture of golden beet juice, salt pepper, and pistachio oil. Place the pink stems in a mixture of chioggia beet juice, salt pepper, and pistachio oil. Sous vide the stems until tender, and the color is intensified. Slice the stems on a bias and place whimsically throughout the dish.
Fresh Sicilian pistachios are toasted, roughly chopped and sprinkled atop the plate for texture and flavor. Slowly drizzle pistachio oil into tapioca maltodextrin to create a sort of pistachio powder. Quickly toast the powder in a hot sauté pan while moving the pan rapidly to create an added layer of flavor to the mixture. The toasted pistachio powder adds a shocking eye appeal to the plate as well as a pleasing sensation to the palate as it disappears on the tongue. Spread the golden goat cheese puree along half of the plate as a flavorful foundation. Place rounds of various sizes of the larger beets intermittently throughout the empty space on the plate. Lay the roasted baby beets in alternating positions along the golden goat cheese spread. Form small quenelles of the Fourme d’Ambert beet mixture and place a few amongst the garnish. Lay the pinkish red stalks of Swiss chard along the golden chevre, and the yellow stems opposite. Diffuse the fresh swiss chard greens all over and top the plate with the chard chips. Sprinkle some of the toasted Sicilian pistachios on top, and generously shake on the pistachio powder. Finish with several pluches of chervil and tarragon and the ballad of beets is complete.