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beets and blues

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I don’t do well in the heat. On days when the mercury pushes 90 degrees F I wilt. I can go for weeks without cooking anything substantial. I drink big glasses of lemonade mixed with iced tea. I stick my head in the freezer in search of some refreshing sorbet. I sip on gins and tonics with generous slices of lime. I survive on simple sandwiches, on tortillas smeared with pinto bean dip sprinkled with cheese and warmed in the toaster oven, on bags of prewashed sugar snap peas and baby carrots. If I’m feeling fancy, I might snag a nice hunk of multi grain baguette topped with a slice of tomato with a drizzle of good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt, but I’m usually too heat addled to even think of something that sophisticated.

It is nice then, to find a few days of reprieve, when turning on the oven doesn’t sound like punishment and when I can roast some beets and bake some polenta and sit down to a dinner that feels worth eating at the table, slowly, with pleasure.

It is only in the last few years that I have learned to appreciate beets. They have such a pleasing density, such an unusual intensity of hue. I find that their earthy sweetness plays well with bright citrus flavors as well as with pungent and creamy cheeses like the gorgonzola in this salad.

It takes just enough time and effort to make it feel like you went to some trouble, but not enough to overwhelm you. Just enough to convince you that it might be time to make friends with the kitchen again.

Roasted Beet and Gorgonzola Salad

With its deep red beets and striated blue cheese set against a bed of greens, this salad is a stunner. It can withstand all sorts of modifications. Use any greens you like or have on hand. I used a mix of baby greens, but spinach or escarole or arugula or a crisp leaf lettuce would be fine. If caramelizing the onions and mushrooms feels like too much, leave them out or toss on some green onion or some fresh herbs at the end instead.

1 bunch beets (about 4 medium)
1/4 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/2 small onion, sliced
a small handful of mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
a big handful of greens, washed
balsamic vinegar
good extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash the beets and trim off the stem and root ends. Rub the beets with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, and roast until they give a little when squeezed or prodded with a fork, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-low heat, saute onions and mushrooms in a little olive oil until the onions are caramelized and the mushrooms are deep brown, about 20 minutes. You don’t have to stand over these, just check on them every five minutes or so to make sure they aren’t burning and to give them a little stir. Set aside.

When the beets are done roasting, rinse them under cool water and slip off the skins. If the skins are stubborn, remove them with a peeler or a paring knife, but be careful–those beets are still really warm inside. Cut the beets into thick slices.

Pile the greens on a plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (toss with your hands to give the leaves a light all-over coating). Add the caramelized onions and mushrooms and slice beets. Sprinkle with pine nuts and gorgonzola. Add another drizzle of olive oil and vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. Eat.

Yields two light main course servings or four side servings.

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