Gimme A Beet!

By Jim Webster



I don’t think I’ve ever been to a farmers’ market when I didn’t see beets. This could go a long way to explaining why I like farmers’ markets so much.


Corn and tomatoes are around for a few glorious months. Cherries and strawberries are at their peak for just a couple of weeks. Other crops come and go. But as the result of a long growing season and a sturdiness for storage, beets are usually at the market.


If this doesn’t make you happy; if you’re still harboring ill will because of the beets from a can that someone made you eat when you were a kid, that’s your problem. I’m not going to try to convince you that you’re wrong. But you are wrong.


For a long time, I was obsessed with getting all the colors beets are available in. The gold seemed extravagant. The candy-stripe — Chioggia (say it: KEY-OH-JAH) — seemed playful. But the truth is, I just buy red beets now. They seem to be the sweetest, and for me, that’s the game with beets.


Now I obsess about shape. David Cleverdon, who owns Kinnikinnick Farm north of Chicago, introduced me to oblong, torpedo-shaped beets. David told me that the cylindrical shape of those beets make them cook more evenly and easier to cut into uniform shapes, two arguments I immediately bought.


But I live 800 miles away from David and his beets. And when I can’t find them in my markets, I’ll still take globes.


So, what to do with them when you get them home? A quick roast makes them ready for a salad, either as an add-on or the star.


I made my first trip to Babbo in 2008, and we did the pasta tasting menu. The dish I was most looking forward to was the Casunzei, beet-filled ravioli dressed with brown butter and poppy seeds. When they hit the table, they were stunning to look at.


“They look sort of like little pig ears,” one of my fellow diners said.

The Casunziei are decidedly vegetarian, but associating them to pork only served to make us love them more.


Want to tackle them? Here’s the recipe. And here’s a secret: To make them more like they were the night I had them at Babbo, I use a cup of goat cheese instead of the potato. Trust me.


And at the risk of destroying my credibility,  here’s another secret: I never had a problem with beets from a can when I was a kid.

Jim Webster works at The Washington Post. Mario and Jim’s book, “America Farm to Table,” will be released by Grand Central Life & Style on Oct. 7. Follow him on Twitter: @jwscoop

To pre-order your copy of America Farm to Table, click here. 


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