One of the benefits of eating locally is tasting things as they change flavor, texture and uses through the seasons. In the case of beets, save for a brief period in early spring, locally-grown ones are available for most of the year, and, like other storage crops, it’s easy to overlook them. Roasted and sliced wafer-thin, this beet carpaccio with its layers of salty goat feta and crunchy agretti renewed our memories of how good they can be.
You know the beets are fresh when they come with their full head of greens attached, like this early bunch from Greenlaw Gardens. It’s like having two vegetables for the price of one, and the greens from the Chioggia and golden varieties can be especially tender and lush. If there’s not a use for them right away, we save the greens much like their relative, chard: Water blanch for 2 minutes, cool, drain and package for freezing.
For the first take on this dish, we took the notion of carpaccio literally and served the beets sliced raw. As attractive as these Chioggias were, we discovered what others have been saying all along, that beets can taste like dirt. Beets seem to produce a chemical called geosmin, an evocative combination of the Greek words for “earth” and “smell” to describe the scent of soil following a rainfall. We also found eating them raw left a tannic or astringent sensation in our mouths, and wonder if some of these issues may be due to a genetic predisposition, as in the case of cilantro.
Raw aside, we still enjoy the almost caramel sweetness of roasted beets. Beets have a particular affinity with acid, and some good balsamic vinegar and a bit of olive oil were all that was needed to finish the plate.
Feta is just one of the several delicious cheeses we brought home from Flying Goat Farm at the North Berwick Farmers’ Market. Owners Devin and Cara are currently seeking to expand their cheesery and are closing in on their Kickstarter goal — if interested in helping to back their campaign, funding closes August 7, 2013.