I Love Beets! In This Salad, That Is...

Monday, September 20, 2010

I love beets.

Ok, not really. Actually I can't stand them. Probably because I was forced to eat them as a kid, and not fresh roasted beets, but those neon-red ones from the can. Yuck. So basically I've avoided beets for all of 20 years until recently when my friend Alison was out visiting, and we had an insanely simple but delicious salad with beets that now I'm obsessed with. The beet-bleu cheese-walnut combo is awesome, whereby the tangy bleu plays off the super sweet beet, and the toasted walnuts take it all home giving the salad a nice crunch for texture.

And I am now in love. With beets.
Spinach Salad with Roasted Beets, Walnuts and Gorgonzola
2-3 good-sized red beets (about a baseball's size) and/or 1 large yellow beet (optional)
1 bag fresh spinach
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Special equipment: aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the stems and bottom off of the beets. I like using a combination of 2 red beets and 1 yellow one for color, but if you can't find yellow beets you can use 3 red ones (or 3 yellow). Wash the beets and then wrap in aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast in oven until tender, about 40 minutes or until pierced very easily with a fork.

While the beets roast, prepare the salad and vinaigrette.

Add the spinach in a large bowl. Set aside.

To make the vinaigrette, simply whisk together the olive oil, rice vinegar, and honey until thickened (or emulsified). Set aside.

To toast the walnuts, heat a small pan over low heat on the stove. Add the walnuts (no oil, no sprays of any kind -- the walnuts will give off their own natural oils when heated) and toast turning occasionally until just golden brown and you can smell the walnuts. Remove promptly and set aside in another bowl (leaving them in the pan will burn them as they'll continue to cook!).

Once the beets are cooked, remove the aluminum foil and let stand to cool a few minutes. Using a paper towel or two, gently peel off the beets' skin. This will be very easy to do; the skin will just come right off. Dice the beets into 1/2 inch cubes or slice into 1/4 inch thick slices and add to the spinach. Season the spinach and beets with salt and pepper to taste, then add the vinaigrette and toss gently, careful not to break up the beets or wilt the spinach. Top with the crumbled gorgonzola and toasted walnuts and serve immediately.

My Notes:
You can prepare the different components ahead of time (roast the beets up to 2 days before, clean and cut; make the vinaigrette a day in advance; toast the walnuts 4 hours before) and then just put together at last minute before dinner or a party.

When you're roasting your beets, make sure you place them on a baking sheet. Don't put them in directly on the wire racks in the oven like you would a potato because the sugars in the beets will caramelize and ooze out of the foil, leaving a horrendous black burnt mess on the bottom of your oven and on the racks. It's a nightmare to clean. So much easier to deal with on a simple baking sheet!
You can substitute with pecans if you don't like or are allergic to walnuts, but I really do like the walnuts with the beets and gorgonzola for this recipe.

And bleu cheese will do, but make sure it's on the milder size. A Roquefort will overpower the delicate beet, and a smoked bleu (Oregonzola) will totally kill the other components in the salad. Stick with a good, creamy gorgonzola -- it has a sharpness of a bleu cheese without overpowering it too much. Spanish bleus are also good.

Don't have rice wine vinegar? Try white balsamic vinegar. Don't have that either? Just use a good regular balsamic. And yes, add the honey -- I think it balances out the flavors well.

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