This is the technique Scottie and I learned at Higgins restaurant in Portland, Ore. It's a great basic method for cooking beets, though it doesn't, on its own, give you the caramelized flavors one often expects from "roasting." Because beets are so hard and dense, it's best to cook them with a little steam to keep them from burning. If you want that caramelization, follow the steps below. The spices, too, add a wonderful, subtle background note to the beets but are not strictly necessary.
- Beets, preferably all the same size (if not, you'll just have to pull the smaller ones out when they're done first)
- Toasted, whole sweet spices – 1 cinnamon stick, 5 allspice berries, 3 cloves per pound of beets, or to taste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- If the tops are on, cut them off, leaving about 1 inch of their stems. Gently wash the beets of any obvious dirt or mud under cold running water. If the thin root coming off the beet is very long, trim it to an inch or so, but this isn't strictly necessary.
- Place the beets in a pan big enough to fit them all with a little room between them. If using, scatter the spices around the beets. Add a little water, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan by 1/8 to 1/4 inch. This creates steam and helps to keep the beet juices from burning.
- Wrap the pan tightly in foil and place in the oven. Depending on the size of your beets, this can take from 45 minutes to well past an hour. If your beets are 1½ to 2 inches wide, check on them at 45 minutes, being very careful of the hot steam that will come billowing out when you unwrap the foil. They are done when a skewer or paring knife can slip though them easily. If they're not, re-cover tightly and keep cooking. When they're ready, take them out and uncover to cool.
- When the beets are cool enough to handle, the skins should slip and peel off rather easily; just rub them a bit to get them going. You can wear gloves for this to not stain your hands, but I like using paper towel, which gets a nice grip on the skins.
- You can cut the beets now, season them with salt and pepper, dress them however you like, and serve. Or, if you want to put the roastiness back into roasted beets, fire up a big, heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add a little vegetable oil, and when it is shimmering, add the peeled cut beets in one layer and sear them until you get some nice caramelization. Flip to color the other side. Or, if you have a large quantity of cooked beets to caramelize, toss them with some oil, lay them on a sheet tray, and roast them in the oven at 425 until they've taken on some color. Love them.
Flavors to pair with beets
Beets, walnuts, goat cheese and a light vinaigrette are a classic for a reason, and while I may tire of seeing them on restaurant menus, I won't tire of eating them together. But beets are surprisingly versatile; I find that if I add something acidic to heighten their sweetness and something rich to round it out, lots of flavors from lots of culinary traditions work wonderfully — from the Mediterranean to northern and eastern Europe and beyond. Here are some of my (current) favorite combinations; of course, all of these can be adjusted to your personal taste:
- Mint, olive oil, sherry vinegar or another aged-wine vinegar
- Melted butter and ginger
- Lime, honey, dill
- Oranges and olives
- Yogurt and parsley
- Pine nuts, raisins and vinegar