Beet Gratin with Orange and Thyme
It took a good long while for me to reconcile with the flavor of beets. I gazed at them from the sidelines, attracted to their vibrant hues, aware of their nutrient-rich flesh, yet wary of their earthy notes. As a cook, I wished to like beets, and as a parent, I wanted to serve them – so I willed myself to eat beets until I learned to love them.
At first, I took baby steps. I nibbled small bites. I doused them with citrus to offset their earthiness. I grew bolder and roasted beets in olive oil, discovering that fire and char nicely counteract their dirt-like flavor. My go-to beet became the golden variety, which is pleasantly mild and nutty. And, eventually, I succeeded. Now, I am a beet convert. Yet while I no longer shudder at eating a completely naked beet, I continue to craft recipes that embrace the sweet beet while tempering their earthy nature.
This gratin recipe allows beets to shine amidst a minimal cast of characters. The co-stars of the dish happen to have their own strength and assertiveness, helping to tone down any earthy qualities that might be lurking in each bite. Layers of beets are cloaked in sour cream infused with orange zest and thyme. Gruyère cheese ripples throughout, adding a complementary nuttiness. The beets release their juices while cooking, saturating the gratin with spectacular color and all the flavors meld together. When I made this, it was so good, everyone at the table was reaching for seconds. As a cook, parent and beet convert, I find that a very good thing.
Baby Beet Gratin with Orange and Thyme
I prepared this recipe in individual ramekins with a variety of red, golden and chioggia beets. A gratin dish will also work for family style serving. Feel free to mix and match the beets to your taste. Eight large beets may be substituted for the baby beets, but be sure to peel the skin.
Makes 1 (8 by 8-inch) gratin or 8 (6-ounce) ramekins
2 cups sour cream
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Freshly ground black pepper
3 bunches baby beets, unpeeled, ends trimmed, scrubbed clean
4 ounces finely grated Gruyere cheese
Fresh thyme leaves
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter 8 (6 ounce) ramekins or an 8 by 8-inch square gratin dish. Whisk the sour cream, garlic, orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl.
Thinly slice the beets with a mandolin or knife.
Arrange 1/3 of the beets, slightly overlapping in the baking dish or individual ramekins. Spoon 1/3 of the sour cream over the beets, carefully spreading to cover. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Lightly season with salt, pepper and pinch of fresh thyme. Repeat with 2 more layers.
Bake in the oven until beets are tender and the gratin is bubbly and golden, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.