Mid-August is a bittersweet time for Cornellians — though summer is still in its sweltering, sunny prime, only a few days remain until classes begin. August is a traveling month, a mess of departures and arrivals, packing and unpacking.
It’s also when farms and gardens everywhere step up their game, replacing young lettuces and string beans with hearty squash and glossy tomatoes. My mother is an avid gardener, so when I was younger this was always a time of great anticipation for the delicious home-grown feasts to come; now, it always seems I’m leaving just before the harvest.
Thankfully, Ithaca is also a great place to procure fresh local vegetables. The Sun has extolled the wonders of the Farmer’s Market many times already (check this or this out), so I won’t rhapsodize over it too much. Let me just say: It is a veritable smorgasbord of earthly delights, and though it always makes me a little homesick, I love it. I stopped by on my first day back, and while perusing the heaps of gorgeous produce, I caught sight of one of my favorites from our garden at home: beets.
Beets get a bad rap. Associated with watery borscht and cold jars of pickled condiments, they are not the tasteless tuber they are made out to be. Fresh beets are beautiful. So vivid in color they almost glow — most commonly a striking purplish-red, but sometimes yellow or orange — when raw, they have a sweet, mild flavor not unlike carrots. However, it is when they’re roasted that beets are at their best. I sliced mine up, let them cook slowly in the oven and ate them with a bit of creamy goat cheese and fall flower honey. The finished product was beauteous: an intense purple, complemented by white of the cheese and the translucent gold of the honey; warm and roasty enough for fall, but still light and sweet as the last lingering days of summer.
Welcome back, kids.
ROASTED BEET SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE AND HONEY
Note: Beets stain. Everything. Once you slice them open, whatever they touch turns a vibrant purple-red. When you have finished chopping them, your cutting board will look like the scene of a particularly gruesome stabbing. As you eat them they will make your fingertips fuchsia and your mouth magenta; this looks pretty on the lips and not so pretty on the teeth. And if you’re wearing white and get any on your shirt, well, god help you. Use an apron. Good luck.
1 pound medium beets
About 1Tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
Creamy goat cheese (also called chevre. I used the plain kind, but if you feel like experimenting with taste, it’s often made with fines herbes mixed in)
Preheat oven to 425. If beets came with greens still attached, remove them (but don’t throw them away! they can be washed, chopped, and sautéed with butter and garlic for a delicious side dish). Wash beets thoroughly with water, but don’t fret if the skins still look a little brown towards the top. Slice into rounds about a quarter inch thick, then place in a large bowl and toss with pinch of salt and just enough olive oil to coat them. Spread evenly over a baking sheet. Bake at 425 for about 20min, flipping them over once halfway through, or until they have dulled in color and are tender when pierced with a fork.
Assembly is the fun part here. I spread cheese on the beet rounds, drizzled a bit of honey on top, then ate them with my fingers like fancy hors d’oeuvres. Tossing the finished beets with the cheese and then serving them in a bowl, or atop a bed of greens, would also have great results. Experiment! Also, enjoy.