I love having the luxury to shop for groceries without an agenda.
Usually, I have a list and a mission to buy what I need to cook two or three things that will feed me and my husband for the week, mostly as leftovers, hot from the microwave, at our respective workplaces.
But sometimes, I can go to the store and simply buy what looks good.
This week, I found a world of winter produce: squash, in all colors, sizes and shapes, and beets, sweet potatoes, turnips and rutabagas all lined up, cheek to cheek. Two baskets of beets, yellow and red, caught my eye.
The sweet, earthy taste and tender, almost fruit-like texture of a fresh, well-prepared beet is a delight to behold. Yellow beets have a sweeter, less earthy, more carrot-like taste than their red, robust cousins. I enjoy both hues equally. I especially love them pickled, particularly in a salad with hard-boiled egg and thin slices of red onion. Harvard Beets — served in a thick, sticky sweet-and-sour sauce — were my mom’s favorite. She made and canned them fresh from the garden. You can find them in a jar — I like the Aunt Nellie’s brand — in the canned vegetable aisle.
When my beets and I arrived home, I wrapped them individually in foil and popped then into a hot oven (400 degrees). Roasting is not only easy, but it’s the best way to retain the texture, color and flavor. After 45 minutes, just poke them right through the foil with a skinny knife and remove the ones that are tender. If your beets are roughly the same size, they’ll be done at roughly the same time. If not, pop the larger ones that need more cooking back into the oven and keep checking and roasting until they’re tender, too.
Be very careful working with your cooked beets. The juice will stain anything in its path, even your fingers. If you’re not going to use your roasted beets immediately, just refrigerate them right in their foil pouches. Later on, you can peel and slice one on top of a salad; or eat one cold with a little vinaigrette, some crumbled blue cheese and some toasted walnuts; or chop one up into chunks and reheat it in the microwave with some butter, salt and pepper. Yum.
I think beets and red onions have a natural affinity, so I decided to make some Roasted Onions Agrodolce to pair with mine. This recipe is from the cookbook “Cucina Simpatica” by Johanne Killeen and George Germon, the chef-owners of Al Forno restaurant in Providence. These onions are wonderful as a side with steak or roasted beef or pork. They develop a dark, sticky, irresistible carmelization as they roast, giving them a charred, almost meaty flavor.
When the onions were done, I peeled and sliced my roasted beets into wedges and added them to the hot onions. The succulent, sweet-and-sour result is delicious when served warm or at room temperature.
I can’t wait to go to the grocery next week. Enjoy!
Roasted Onions Agrodolce
5 large red onions, about 2 pounds
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar (If you have fancy, aged balsamic, no need to use it here. The cheap stuff actually works better here.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I also add some freshly ground black pepper)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Slice onions in half through the root end. Slice off the tops then peel them, keeping the root ends intact.
Place the onion halves cut side down on a cutting board. Cut each half into 4 wedges, taking care to make each cut through the root, which will keep each wedge intact. (Killeen and Germon want the root end intact to ensure a lovely presentation, but that means that when you eat them, you’ll need a knife to cut them apart. In this case, I chose ease of eating over beauty when served, so after I cut the wedges, I sliced the root end off and just handled them carefully as I placed them in the pan.)
Place the onions in one layer in a 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Brush them with the olive oil, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt (and pepper) and cover pan with foil.
Bake the onions for 45 minutes, uncover and bake for an additional 5 minutes until onions are soft and the juices have carmelized.
Original recipe from “Cucina Simpatica” by Johanne Killeen and George Germon.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes at firstname.lastname@example.org.