Beet Gratin with Gruyère and Thyme

Beet Gratin
Beet Gratin with Gruyère and Thyme

I am a beet convert. It took a good long time for me to reconcile with their earthy taste. I gazed at beets from the sidelines, attracted to their vibrant magenta and ochre hues, cognizant of their nutrient-rich flesh, yet I shuddered at their redolence of dirt. As a cook, I wanted to love them. As a parent, I wanted to serve them. So, I willed myself to eat beets until I learned to appreciate them.

At first, I took baby steps. I nibbled small bites. I  paired them with limes and oranges, letting the acidity of the citrus tame their earthiness. I grew bolder and roasted beets in olive oil, discovering that fire and char nicely counteracted their dirt-like flavor. My go-to beet became the golden variety, which is pleasantly mild and nuttier in taste. And, eventually, I succeeded. Now, I am a fully fledged beet eater. I order beets in restaurants, and I cook with them. Yet while I no longer shudder at eating a completely naked beet, I continually craft recipes that embrace the beet while tempering their earthy nature.

This recipe for Beet Gratin does just that. It’s unambigous in its ingredients, allowing the beets to shine through in a cast of minimal characters. Yet 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. The layers of beets are thinly cloaked in olive oil. Gruyère cheese is sprinkled between the beets along with fresh thyme and a trace of nutmeg. The presentation is simple and absent of any gratin goopyness. The beets release their juices while cooking, saturating the gratin with their brilliant color, while the flavors meld together. When I made this, it was so good, everyone at the table was reaching for seconds. As a cook and a parent, I find that a very good thing.

Beet Gratin with Gruyère and Thyme

I prepared this recipe in individual ramekins. A gratin dish will also work for family style serving. Red beets, golden beets or a combination may be used.

Unsalted butter
4 medium-sized red beets, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
Ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.) Butter 4 ramekins. Thinly slice beets with a mandoline. Arrange one layer of sliced beets in each ramekin (one slice may fit perfectly.) Lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with cheese, a little thyme and a pinch of nutmeg. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat layering process until ramekins are full, pressing down lightly. Bake in oven until gratins are bubbling, cheese is golden and beets are tender, about 45 minutes. Serve warm with fresh thyme sprigs as garnish.

Roasted Red Beet, Blood Orange and Ginger Soup with Orange Crème Fraîche

Roasted Red Beet, Blood Orange and Ginger Soup with Orange Crème Fraîche

Red Beet Blood Orange Soup

Beets: I cannot help but be seduced by their brilliant color and their nutritional riches, yet their flavor has proven a more trying relationship. Perhaps I have been marred by unfortunate events in my past involving pickled versions in bottles that were redolent of, well, dirt.  This aversion has kept me at arm’s length from the enjoyment of these visually evocative root vegetables, and, ultimately, has been my loss. So, recently I decided to take matters into my own hands and learn how to love beets.

I began by roasting them. The roasting process seems to tame the beet’s unique earthiness, especially when combined with salt, olive oil and a little garlic. I then moved on to salads and found that beets work well when they are one component of many and combined with other distinctive flavors and textures: walnuts, ricotta salata, arugula and mint, for example. After some experimenting with composing salads with beets, I was emboldened. My next step was to make a soup. Looking to the salad for inspiration, I blended beets with several strong-flavored ingredients, paying attention to the balance of sweet, sour, and spice. I chose bold tastes I love, and that is how I arrived at this soup. The beets were present in flavor, but not overpowering. Their earthiness was tamped down by the brightness of citrus and the spiciness of ginger. Chile pepper added a kick and honey sweetened and smoothed out the soup. Topped with a cooling dollop of orange infused crème fraîche, the soup was exciting and fresh, giving the sense of multi-textures, even though it was puréed. The only overpowering presentation of the beets was in the soup’s intense magenta color – which is one thing I have always loved about beets.

Roasted Red Beet, Blood Orange and Ginger Soup with Orange Crème Fraîche

Orange juice may be substituted for the blood orange juice. The soup is best served warm (not hot) or at room temperature with a dollop of cool crème fraîche.  Serves 3-4.

4 large red beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 small serrano chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, chopped, about 2 tablespoons
1 cup water
1 cup blood orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus additional whole leaves for garnish

Orange Crème Fraîche (recipe below)
2 blood orange slices, cut in half

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Trim the tops and ends of the beets. Place in a baking dish and fill water up to 1 inch in the bottom of the dish. Roast the beets in oven until tender, about 1 hour. Remove and cool. Peel off skin and cut beets in chunks.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until nearly translucent without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and serrano chile; sauté 30 seconds. Add the beets and 1 cup water. Cover and simmer 10 minutes; the vegetables should be very soft. Cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the orange juice and purée until smooth. Return to the saucepan. (If soup is too thick, thin to desired consistency with additional orange juice. It should not be too thin.) Stir in the lime juice and honey. Add the salt and pepper and taste to adjust seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature. Before serving stir in 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves. Ladle into bowls. Top with a spoonful of Orange Crème Fraîche. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves and a slice of blood orange.

Orange Crème Fraîche:

1/2 cup crème fraîche (or Greek-style whole milk yogurt)
2 tablespoons orange juice
Combine crème fraîche and orange juice in small bowl. Serve with soup.