Roasted red beets with cherries, fennel and goat cheese
Beets and cherries, with their deep red skin and flesh, and natural sugars in common, come together in this earthy salad, accented with raw fennel and fresh goat cheese.
The debate over how to cook beets is never ending. Are they best cooked in boiling salted water, or roasted? In my experience, slow-roasting beets with olive oil, vinegar, and dry aromatics or fresh herbs offers more concentrated beet flavor. Boiling, on the other hand, is usually faster, and their skin, softened by the water that seeps behind it, is easier to peel. Either approach will work with beets that are fresh and of good quality. And after marinating them, they'll taste especially fabulous.
If you find beets with their greens attached, remove them so that about 1-inch of stem remains protruding from the top of the root. Avoid cutting the tops of beets off completely as this causes the exposed flesh to excrete both nutrients and color. Cook the beets, then remove the top as you peel them. To prepare the greens, wash and stem them, discarding the stems if they are tough. The greens are especially good sauteed and served as a side dish, not unlike chard or spinach.
Makes 4 to 6 individual salads, or a family-style platter to serve 6 to 8
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of one orange
6 to 8 red beets, 2 to 3-inches in diameter, with 1-inch stem intact, scrubbed clean
4 or 5 red spring onions, or 1/2 red onion cut in 1/2-inch slices
1 bulb fennel, stalks and greens
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound dark sweet cherries, pitted and halved, or left whole (I like to use needle nose pliers to reach into the cherry and remove the pit without damaging the outer flesh.)
Juice of one lemon
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
Handful micro lettuce or fresh herb leaves such as parsley, basil, tarragon or a combination
Finishing salt if desired
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar and orange juice. Place the beets and onions in an ovenproof earthenware pan, or stainless steel pan with low sides. P the contents of the bowl evenly over top and shake the pan a few times to evenly and completely coat the beats. Sprinkle the fennel seeds on top, season with salt and pepper, and loosely cover the pan with foil or a piece of parchment paper.
Place the pan in the oven and roast the beets between 60 and 75 minutes, or until a small paring knife can be inserted in the flesh of the beet with little resistance.
When they are ready, remove the beets from the oven and allow them to cool covered, in the pan, until they can be handled. Strain them over a bowl, reserving the marinade for later. Peel the beets with your fingers, or a vegetable peeler if the skin isn't sliding off easily. Avoid using water to coax the skin free as it will dilute the flavors and add unnecessary moisture. Slice the peeled beets in 1/4-inch thick coins, place them in a bowl and add the reserved marinade as well as more oil and vinegar as needed. The beets slices should be thoroughly coated. Add the cherries, season to taste and set aside.
If the outer layer of the fennel bulb is stringy, use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of skin before cutting the bulb in half and removing the core. Place the fennel halves on a cutting board cut side down and slice as thinly as possible. Toss the fennel slices in a separate bowl with the lemon juice and season with a pinch of salt.
To serve, put a spoonful of beets and cherries in the center of each plate. Scatter fennel slices on top, along with a few micro greens or herb leaves, and 3 or 4 small dollops of goat cheese. Lightly season with finishing salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.