2014-09-18 / From The Garden

Beets–Can't Be Beat

By Cynthia Gibson

The beet harvest began at the end of August. These large red jewels, which taste like the earth they are planted in, are filled with everything good for you at this time of year. According to many gourmands, beets are on the “hot” list of vegetables in restaurants.

The tubers are no longer just red; they can be orange, yellow, and even striped. Yet, the big red beet still has the best flavor. Look for or harvest beets that are three to four inches across. I grow mine in large pots, so the added value is that the attractive green and red leaves make a lovely summer display.

Wild beets or sea-beets grow along the coasts of the Mediterranean to the shores of Great Britain. These were the first beets that were foraged and grown for their leaves. Historically, people did not eat the small red root; they ate the sweet green leaves with red veins. Hybridization led to the beets we know today. The leaves of the common beet “Beta vulgaris” are still tossed into salads or stewed, as are collard greens.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Garden Tidbit: The Harvard beet received its name from a Russian immigrant who opened a restaurant in the Boston area and named it “Harwood’s.” His heavily-accented English resulted in the vegetable becoming known as Harvard beets.

Harvard Beets

Serves 8
(Double the recipe; it freezes well
and you will want more)

3 lbs. fresh beets
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar or white
4 tsp. cornstarch
2-3 tbsp. fresh unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut off the tops and roots of the beets. Do not peel them. Place them in a large saucepan, cover with water and 1/2 tsp. salt, and simmer over low to medium heat until tender or about 40 minutes. If you can easily poke a fork into the beets, they are done. (Reserve 1/2 cup of the pink cooking liquid).

Cool for about 20 minutes. Peel the beets and cut them into bite-sized pieces. In the same medium-sized saucepan, place the sugar, vinegar, pink beet liquid, cornstarch and three twists of freshly ground pepper. Whisk until well blended. Place the pot over a medium heat and stir constantly for two to three minutes. At first, the mixture will be cloudy, then it will thicken and become transparent. Take the pot off the stove immediately and add the diced beets. Return mixture to burner over a low heat until evenly heated. Remove from the stove and serve immediately.

Roasted Beets

Slice off the long tail, and cut off the green tops. Place them top side down on a tray sprayed with oil. Cover them with foil and bake like a potato in a 400 degree oven for 40-45 minutes. Cool. Let beets rest for about 15 minutes before removing the foil from the tray.

Roasting beets is one of the best ways to prepare them and while they’re cooking, the earthy fragrance will permeate your kitchen. The baked tuber is delicious simply peeled and sliced with a nice vinaigrette or in a warm salad, with sugar-coated walnuts and freshly crumbled goat cheese.

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