Food & Drink

Ro Howe’s Recipes: Spice-Roasted Golden and Red Beet Salad, Watercress, Candied Pecans

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I came to like beets later in life, their having been inflicted upon me by Grandmama, who thought a good honest home cook insisted on serving pickled beets every time we had salad. My little-girl acid-sensitive palate didn’t appreciate them at all.

It wasn’t until I became a professional chef and my craft demanded that I explore their taste and texture that I discovered that their aggressiveness was not inherent to them. I was pleasantly surprised by their well-structured solidity and gently sweet, earthy flavor. They’re a bit like a maiden aunt—rather bulky and ordinary looking with no make-up. But take Auntie to the make-up artist and watch her bloom into a beauty!

Here we loosely wrap roast golden and red beets with seasonings so their aromas penetrate the gently softening flesh, imbuing them with perfumed hints of gardens; cool, Middle Eastern spice stalls; and an ancient floral exoticism from Medieval Europe.

Grace them with peppery watercress balanced by smooth, unctuous blue cheese mousse, sprinkle with sugar-toasted pecans and basil dressing.

Yield: six portions as an appetizer

Equipment: Roasting pan or half-sheet tray, chef’s knife, cutting board, tinfoil, wooden skewer, measuring cups and spoons, small metal bowl, rubber spatula, small fine-wire whisk, small rubber spatula, small sauté pan, one-tablespoon ice cream scoop.

Ingredients:
2 red beets—washed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 crushed garlic cloves
4 crushed cardamom pods
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 golden beets—washed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 crushed garlic cloves
4 crushed cardamom pods
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt

 

For the mousse:
6 tablespoons whipped blue cheese
2 tablespoons crème frâiche, whipped

 

For the dressing:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon superfine sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced basil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bunches watercress, sprigged

3 tablespoons pecans, rough chopped
2 tablespoons sugar

 

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Wrap the washed beets separately loosely in a tinfoil package with the oil and seasonings. Bake for one hour.
Whip together the mashed blue cheese and crème frâiche. Reserve.
Combine the dressing ingredients in a sealed jar and shake like mad to emulsify!
Trim the watercress into short sprigs.
Heat a small sauté pan. Add sugar and melt. When light golden, add the chopped pecans and toast. When dark golden, toss into a small metal bowl to chill down.
Test the beets with a wooden skewer. Cook for another 15 minutes until skewer pierces the beets easily.
When the beets are cooked, unwrap and allow to cool. Keeping the beets separate, peel and slice.
Place around the edges of a salad plate. Place a dollop of blue cheese in the middle. Place a small bunch of watercress in the center. Drizzle the cress and beets with basil vinaigrette. Sprinkle sugared pecans over all.

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