To investigate the merits of beet humor, I dredged up a relic from my past, when I worked in sustainable agriculture and education at the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont. As part of that job, I helped develop "Harvest of the Month Packets"-- educational materials for kids and families that focus on a different seasonal crop each month. Each booklet includes various activities and recipes, nutritional information and historical facts, and on the last page, there's always jokes. December's Beet Packet, as I am now reminded, features the obligatory music joke-- Q: Why did everyone dance to the vegetable band? A: Because it had a good beet! Badum ching. There's also a Shel Silverstein penned joke that ups the anty a bit, "What did the carrot say to the wheat? Lettuce rest, I'm feeling beet."
In leafing (get it?) through the pages, I also found a few things I forgot I once knew. For instance, the ancient Romans apparently ate beet greens for their medicinal properties, but consumption of the roots, which we most commonly eat today, was not popular until the 16th century. It seems that the Romans did not know that the beet root itself bears many health benefits. They're an excellent source of potassium, fiber, and folate, which is good for heart-health and contain betacyanin, which is a powerful cancer-fighting agent.
They're also viscerally beautiful, the red ones looking like little hearts, the yellow like fist-size medallions plucked from a pot of gold. Much like the Tri-color Potato, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese & Rosemary Galette, this recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart, shows off the striking color variation of the vegetable. The beets' earthy flavor and sweetness that almost always takes you off guard, not matter how many times you've had them before, is complimented here by a smooth and creamy goat cheese and ricotta blend, and topped off with fresh herbs. The original recipe calls for thyme, but I think this would actually be better with dill--a fool-proof combination I learned from the Moosewood Cookbook's Russian Cabbage Borscht recipe from Molly Katzen. As you can tell, I'm no real beet poet, so on with the recipe...
Red & Golden Beet and Goat Cheese Tart
Adapted from Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts
Makes 1 11-inch tart
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust, halved and sans sugar
1 1/2 lbs. red & golden beets
2 Tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 lb. fresh goat cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. (4 oz.) ricotta cheese
2 tsp. fresh thyme or dill, finely chopped, plus 1 tsp. whole leaves
1/2 c. fontina cheese, grated
1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough at least 1 hour before rolling out and fitting into a greased and floured 11-inch fluted tart pan. Pierce the bottom of the shell all over with a fork. Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes (you may want to start preparing the filling while the tart is chilling).
2. Line frozen tart shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake about 30 minutes, until crust is light golden brown. Remove pie weights and let cool.
1. Rinse beets and toss with olive oil and 1 tsp. salt. Place in a baking dish and cover with parchment paper, then tightly with foil. Roast 45 minutes-1 hour until beets are tender. Remove from the oven and once cool, peel beets with a potato peeler or paring knife. Slice into thin rounds.
2. Raise oven temperature to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, stir together the goat cheese, ricotta, and chopped thyme or dill (I used thyme but I think dill would be better) until combined. Season with pepper to taste. Spread the cheese mixture on the bottom of the tart shell, all the way to the edges.
3. Arrange the beet slices in concentric circles over the cheese mixture, letting slices overlap slightly and alternative colors. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, fontina, and whole thyme or dill leaves. Drizzle the tart with olive oil. Bake until golden brown, approximately 25 minutes. Serve warm with a green salad.