If you’re looking to impress someone with your culinary skills, don’t discount the beauty of a well-crafted salad.
The first course sets the tone for the rest of the meal. If your entrée is light (think seafood or chicken in a simple sauce), start with bold, robust flavors; if your entrée is heavy (roast or stewed meats), begin with something a little more delicate.
To precede our entrée during our non-anniversary meal (seared duck breast), I knew I wanted to serve a salad. I had been meaning to make a beet salad for a while now, and this seemed like an ideal opportunity.
Beets? You’re probably confused. I don’t blame you.
Last year when I worked the Garde Manger station at Perry Street (a restaurant in NY’s West Village), I had the honor (enter sarcasm) of constructing a similar beet salad over and over and over again throughout service. Think I’m whining? This baby takes work. Even though the majority of prep is completed before service begins, you still have to peel and slice the pears fresh to order. And plate it beautifully, I might add. This beet salad became my nemesis. It would slow me down during service, turn my hands red, and leave me cursing (as is often the case in a kitchen) for accepting the job.
Now, a year later, I’m able to look back at that salad and smile. It was good. The flavors meld well together, it’s texturally appealing, and let’s not even talk about how beautiful it is.
This seemed like something my husband would appreciate. (Also, he’s recently discovered that he likes beets.)
In honor of my days slaving away in a professional kitchen, I bring you my Perry Street-inspired beet salad.
First thing you want to do is cook your beets. Their size will determine how long they cook.
I used a mixture of red and yellow beets, just for looks. Throw them in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook until a cake tester can be inserted easily into the center of the beet.
The smaller beets needed about 1 hour, whereas the two larger red beets took 15 minutes longer. Don’t worry about overcooking the beets. As long as you test them every 15-20 minutes, they won’t turn to mush.
While the beets are boiling away, preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 cup of walnuts on a baking sheet, and toast in an oven for 5 minutes. If you begin to smell them before your timer goes off, take ‘em out — don’t want these guys to burn!
Pour 1/2 cup of sugar into a heavy bottom sauce pan and melt over medium-high heat. As soon as the sugar begins to melt, stir with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring until all of the sugar is a dark amber brown.
Toss in the toasted walnuts and stir until they’re evenly coated. Pour the walnuts onto a silpat-lined baking sheet and use a fork or wooden spoon to separate them as much as possible. Sprinkle with a little salt before the sugar hardens.
Once these have cooled, you can break them up and set them aside in a bowl.
That wasn’t so bad!
You probably still have time to kill before the beets are finished. If you haven’t done so already, crumble some gorgonzola cheese and set aside.
Alright, back to the beets. Once they’re fully cooked, drain the beets. To peel, simply place one beet at a time in a clean dish towel or a few paper towels and rub until the skin comes off. You shouldn’t have to apply too much pressure. Don’t worry if there are dark spots that seem to be embedded in the beet — you can always cut those out.
(P.S. I do this with disposable kitchen gloves and an apron on. Those suckers will turn your hands and clothes bright red.)
If you’re using more than one type of beet, keep them separated so they don’t stain each other.
Final step: cut them into quarters and clean up any marks that don’t look appetizing. Just use a paring knife and slice them away.
Place each bowl in a refrigerator until you’re ready to plate.
Now all that’s left is to peel and thinly slice a pear when you’re ready to eat. Let’s plate!
For a special added touch, place two plates in the refrigerator or freezer a few minutes before serving. It’s nice to serve cold foods on cold plates and warm foods on warm plates. Easy enough to remember.
Scatter a few beets around the plate, then add a handful of thinly sliced pears (you can prop them up between the beets so it looks like a maze). Toss in a few candied walnuts and chunks of gorgonzola cheese, then drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over each beet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then serve.
Beet Salad with Candied Walnuts and Gorgonzola
Yields: 4 servings
Time: 1 hr cooking, 20 min prep
- 4 or 5 beets (any mixture of colors is fine)
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3-4 oz gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
- 1 pear
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place unpeeled beets in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then cook until a cake tester can easily be inserted into the center of each beet without resistance (anywhere from 45 min – 1 hr 15 min). Check every 15 minutes.
- Drain beets, then place one at a time into a clean dish towel or a few paper towels. With disposable kitchen gloves on, rub off the skin of each beet. Place beets in separate bowls based on color so they don’t stain each other.
- Use a paring knife to remove any imperfections on the beets, then slice into quarters. Place in a refrigerator until ready to plate.
- Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Remove from oven and set aside.
- In a small heavy bottom saucepan, melt 1/2 cup of sugar over medium-high heat. As soon as the sugar begins to melt, stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the sugar is completely melted and has turned a dark amber brown color, toss in the toasted walnuts and stir to coat. Pour walnuts onto a silpat-lined baking sheet and separate with a fork or wooden spoon. Sprinkle with salt before they harden.
- Place plates in a refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes prior to plating. Peel and thinly slice a pear into half-moon wedges.
- Scatter a few beets around the plate, then add a handful of thinly sliced pears (you can prop them up between the beets). Toss in a few candied walnuts and chunks of gorgonzola cheese, then drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over each beet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then serve.