Though I’ve loved the greens since childhood, I had a serious aversion to the beets themselves until I tasted Rhonda Gruska’s pickled ones a few years ago. What a revelation!
Since then I’ve been pickling my own, as well as using beets for soups and for one of my now-favorite dishes — the beet risotto from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” (a great cookbook even if you’re not a vegetarian). And no San Francisco trip would be complete without stopping at the Ferry Building for an Acme Bakery roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich.
A couple of weeks ago at the Farmers Market I noticed that Lloyd’s produce stand had the most beautiful beets I’d ever seen. Fat and elongated and gorgeously colored, they come with abundant and equally beautiful greens. I’ve been picking up a bunch or two a week. I pickled a huge jar of them, which I serve up nearly every night as a salad garnish. I’ve been making that risotto.
Still, the beets do accumulate so I’ve been experimenting. Last week I made a coffee cake, two ingredients of which were cocoa and grated beets. It was so successful that I kneaded 2/3 cup of grated beets into my last batch of sourdough bread, which turned out not only delicious but lovely to look at.
As you can see, I’m rapidly becoming beet-obsessed, especially since even my beet-hating friends are happily devouring my concoctions. As soon as it cools off a bit, I’m going to make a dense, flourless chocolate cake with beets. On my list of dinners for the hot season are several beet dishes — borscht (chilled, of course), beet cake salé and my own attempt at that Acme sandwich.
Along with this flurry of invention comes the obvious question — what wine pairs well with this beautiful root? To be honest, it’s a bit of a non-question, pickled beets being so different from beet-inflected bread, a roasted beet sandwich from a beet chocolate cake, borscht from risotto. But calling out to me from the wine shelves in this season of heat and beet are the sparkling wines and the rosés.
I started with a favorite from last year, the Segura Viudas Brut Rosé Cava. This sparkler is wonderfully dependable and quite refreshing with its hints of raspberry, cherry and peach. I served it with borscht, a fava bean salad and slices of garlic bread. Not only was the pairing excellent but the color-coordinated combination of the borscht and the sparkling wine looked both festive and elegant on the table.
The Segura Viudas wines hail from the Penedès region of Spain just outside of Barcelona. Their regular white Cava may be even better but not so rosy, of course. Both the white and the rosé come in “extra dry” as well as “brut,” the extra dry showing a bit more fruit. Low in both alcohol (12 percent) and price (around $8 to $9 at Nugget and the Co-op), these champagne-method wines are consistently great bargains. Try them all.
The next day I made a beet-and-feta cake salé and served it with Fâmega rosé, which I hadn’t tried. Again, the pretty color match of wine and main dish tickled my aesthetic sense as well as my tongue. And since it was an uncomfortably hot evening, the room-temperature “cake” and the well-chilled wine seemed an appropriately cool meal.
Fâmega is a Portuguese winery known for its venho verde. Last summer I wrote with enthusiasm about the then-new Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Rosé. Happily, it seems that other vinho verde producers are also jumping on the red (or pink or amber) wagon.
The Fâmega, like the Casal Garcia, is bright and crisp. Not at all complicated, it nevertheless has more than one note — it becomes more citrusy, for example, as it loses it hard chill, and the initial strawberry fades to a wisp. Was it just my beet-infused imagination or did it hit a light beet note as well?
The tiny bubbles that line the glass don’t tickle the tongue so assertively as the Cava, but they do fizz just enough to cut into the earthy sweetness of the beets. And at only 10.3 percent alcohol, finishing off a bottle didn’t bother us a bit. Fâmega rosé, by the way, is a blend of several Portuguese grapes: touriga nacional, tinta roriz (tempranillo), vinhao and alvarelhao. $8 at Nugget. (The similar and equally good Casal Garcia is about the same price at the Co-op.)
In case you’re wondering about cake salé, it’s a savory French invention that’s somewhere between a quiche and a quick bread. The French serve it as an appetizer, but I think it makes a great summer main dish served with a big green salad (ours had a tender tasty mix of newly picked lettuces and radiccio from Farmers Market vendors Fiddlers Green and Towani). The recipes I’ve seen for it vary so wildly that you wonder how they can bear the same name — sort of like a Chihuahua and a Newfoundland both answering to “dog.”
But if you’re interested in trying my beet-feta version, here’s approximately what I did. First I sautéed in olive oil — for about 5 minutes — two cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a medium chopped onion (I used part of a big red one, also from Lloyd). A friend had just brought me a pile of small crookneck squash, so I chopped and added one of those as well.
Then I got out two bowls. The dry ingredients went in one : a generous cup of unbleached flour (I used part spelt), 2 tablespoons of flaxmeal, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2/3 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar. The wet ingredients went into the other bowl: 3 eggs, 1/2 cup of yogurt, 4 tablespoons olive oil, ¾ cup grated beet, ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, chives, parsley), the zest and juice of a lemon, 1/3 cup crumbled feta, 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
I stirred the wet into the dry then added the sautéed vegetables. I poured the batter into a buttered 9-by-9 inch baking dish and popped it in my little outdoor convection oven for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
The variations are endless — in the past I’ve used mushrooms, smoked salmon, walnuts and greens; I’ve used goat cheese, ricotta, peccorino and fontina. All good. The rosé possibilities are endless as well; Nugget was just assembling a large display of it as I walked out with my Fâmego.
I can’t testify to its affinity for beets, but local winemaker Craig Senders’ 2010 pinot noir from Las Brisas — a small vineyard in Carneros — just won a gold medal at the Riverside International Wine Competition. Congratulations, Karen and Craig! (You can order it from www.senderswine.com.)
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com