“Have I ever told you about the day Julia Child stopped in front of my garden, got out of the car, and schooled me on the only way to cook a beet?” My friend Jane’s garden isn’t grand or perfectly manicured; in fact, it’s small and wild within the four walls of the handmade fence, and it fed her family for decades. It’s one of my favorite gardens, and I’m not alone. Because, apparently, Julia Child was visiting friends in the Berkshires who had been to Jane’s garden, and they thought she just had to see it. And that’s how Jane got schooled by Julia in the middle of her beet patch.
“The only way to cook a beet,” Jane told me in her perfect Julia voice, “is in a covered roasting pan in a very hot oven. Douse it with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a splash of red wine. It will be done in a jiff, and absolutely glorious.” This is the only way Jane cooks her beets, and I can confirm from experience that it does create a glorious beet. I’ll add the wine if I have a bottle open, but I find the balsamic really is the essential element.
I love everything about beets—their color, earthiness, sugar, and versatility. I often cook two bunches at a time, and leftovers become an ingredient to enjoy throughout the week. Use them in Beet and Cucumber Quinoa ( this page). And if you buy your beets with greens, save them for Miso Greens ( this page) or Polenta with All the Greens (this page). Try, if you can, to use beets of a similar size, so that they’ll all take about the same time to cook.
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 1½ pounds beets (3 to 5 medium beets), 1 inch of tops and tails attached
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
- 2 tablespoons red wine
- Kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Wash the beets and nestle them into a roasting pan. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and wine, if using. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil. Roast until tender when pricked with a fork, 40 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully lift the lid or foil. Let the beets cool until you can comfortably touch them.
- Use your hands or a paring knife to remove the top and tail of each beet. Then apply pressure to the skin and slide it right off. If the beets are cooked enough, the skin should come off easily. If it doesn’t, use a paring knife. If you’re making the beets to use later, store them whole in a covered container in the refrigerator. To use right away, chop each beet into bite-sized pieces and place them in a serving bowl. Add a sprinkle of salt and, if they seem to need it, a glug of olive oil.