I have a soft spot for things that are hard to love. Spreadsheets, mom shoes, stubborn people. In fact, I tend to gravitate towards them, probably because I feel like it's worth it in the end. As if the satisfaction resulting from something is in direct proportion to how difficult it is to love.
Maybe that's why I like beets so much. They are hard and unyielding with grubby thick skins, and they taste distinctly of dirt. They need a good scrubbing and a long sojourn in the oven, after which they must be divested of their jackets. I've tried various ways of keeping my hands clean, but now I just own it and try to enjoy the bright pink shade of my skin after peeling beets.
Beets also seem to evoke strong emotions. Usually, a beet will summon utter disgust or undying passion and nothing in between. I guess I just wound up on the side of undying passion.
This recipe is inspired by a dish I ate at a restaurant recently. In it, beets are paired with another seasonal delight--blood oranges. If you can't find blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges would also be lovely. If you can find golden beets, they make a lovely contrast to the red beets, but using all red beets is perfectly fine. You can also use rutabaga, as it turns a lovely golden color when roasted. What really sets this salad off is the addition of crispy, browned bread crumbs and a good drizzle of olive oil. I can't promise it will woo the beet haters, but that just means more for the rest of us.
Note: If you would prefer to boil the beets, cover them with water and bring to a boil until tender, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the tops (and save for another use) from:
Two bunches red and/or golden beets (about 8 to 10 medium-sized beets; roughly 2 1/2 pounds)
Toss the beets in a little oil in a baking dish and cover the whole dish with foil. Bake until tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 to 2 hours depending on the size of the beets.
While the beets roast, heat in a small skillet over medium heat:
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or 1/2 teaspoon fresh
Black pepper as desired
Stir the crumbs frequently until golden brown. Remove from the heat. Add:
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Cut away the peel and pith from:
2 blood oranges
Cut the oranges into 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick slices and set aside.
When the beets are tender, allow them to cool enough to handle, and gently rub off the skins. You can use a paper towel to help rub them off or wear kitchen gloves. Cut the beets in half or quarters lengthwise.
Arrange the beets on a serving platter. Give them a good drizzle of olive oil and a healthy sprinkling of kosher salt, then top with the orange slices. Serve the bread crumbs on the side.