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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Baby Baby

It doesn't matter what they are, I always fall for the baby vegetables when they arrive at the farmers market. Sometimes, I'm not sure if the tiny vegetables are intentional or if they're simply thinnings plucked from garden rows to make room for the big guns. Whatever the reason, I'm a sucker for the teeny-weeny stuff. Whether they're root vegetables, patty pans, yellow squash, zucchini, potatoes, or cucumbers, the little ones beguile me. So, when Stonehedge Farm had a few bunches of  baby beets (Golden, Chioggia, White, and Purple) innocently stashed next to bags of mizuna, mustard greens, and lettuces, I took the bait. Hook, line, and sinker.

I grew up loving beets. As a military kid in Vienna, Frau Olga plied me with all kinds of wild and wonderful Slavic beet dishes. As a transplanted Kentucky farm boy, I watched my grandmother grow, pickle, and can beets every year. Her arsenal of dusty canned beets from the dark dank cellar graced our table at almost every meal. Yep, I'm a beet lover.

Unless I'm pickling beets, making chilled summer borscht, hearty meat-laden winter borscht, or rolling out fresh beet pasta, I typically roast beets, chill them down, and add flecks of goat cheese before tossing them with a light vinaigrette. The slight fresh tang of the goat cheese pairs beautifully with the roasted sweet earthiness of the beets. It's a classic combo. That said, my market beets were too small to roast. They would have collapsed into mash from the prolonged heat. They needed a lighter touch. Without sacrificing my favorite go-to flavor profile, I took a different route.

Skillet Braised Baby Beets with Beet Greens and Chevre. 

I snipped the green tops from 2 small bunches of Stonehedge Farm baby purple and chioggia beets. After setting them aside, I brought  1/2 cup water to a rolling boil in a large cast iron skillet, tumbled the purple beets into the skillet, reduced the heat, covered the skillet, and let them braise/steam for 20 minutes. When the beets were tender, I scooped them onto a side plate, drained the liquid from the skillet, added 1/2 cup water back into the skillet, and repeated the process with the remaining baby chioggia beets. After letting the beets cool, I slipped off the delicate skins and set them aside.

With the beets on deck, I reheated the skillet over a medium flame, added a drizzle of olive oil, and sauteed 1/4 cup minced shallot. When the shallots turned translucent, I tossed the reserved beet greens into skillet, gave them a quick turn with a pair of tongs, and splashed the skillet with 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar. As the vinegar started to reduce, I tumbled the beets back into the skillet and pulled them from the heat. While the skillet was still warm, I tucked pieces of creamy Bluegrass Chevre into the beets and drizzled everything with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with flaky sea salt, stinging white pepper, and fresh beet greens.

Warmed by the residual heat, the wilted greens and soft melting cheese created a fantastic take on classic  beet and goat cheese salad. While almost glazed with the sweet acidity of the reduced white balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil, the subtle earthiness of the jeweled baby beets balanced the creamy tang of the soft chevre, slight crunch of the fresh greens, and the biting heat of white pepper.

Tiny bites.
Big payoff.

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