Seasonal pantry: 4 ways to cook fresh beets

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Do you have a difficult relationship with beets? If you were raised, as I was, on canned red beets in some sort of flour-based vinegar sauce, you might. Those beets were a pretty tough sell to a child, and it can take years to rediscover them. But it is worth it.

Beets, cooked and seasoned properly, are delicious and full of good nutrients. They are frequently proclaimed to be a superfood, with a positive impact on circulation and blood pressure.

If red beets seem overpowering, try golden beets. They are milder, like red beets with the volume turned down. They are delicious in soup and risotto and as a side dish. They do not overwhelm other flavors.

Chioggia beets, pale pink and white arranged in pretty swirls, are delicate, too, but have a pronounced earthy flavor and aroma, thanks to a higher amount of the compound geosmin. Geosmin is also responsible for that delightful aroma known as petrichor, the scent of the earth after the first rain following a long dry spell.

When it comes to red beets, there are many varieties, some not much bigger than your thumbnail and others enormous, as big as a bear’s claw. Some are oblong, like fat carrots.

Now and then you can find white beets, which are not as complex as colored beets. They are quite sweet and sometimes used to make sugar, though sugar beets are yet another variety.

For more beet recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at


This soup is flexible and easily adapted to what you have on hand. No farro? Use barley instead. No chickpeas? Use a favorite bean. No chard or beet greens? Use kale. Don’t want any dairy? Serve the soup neat or top it with gremolata, tapenade, or Italian salsa verde.

Beet Soup with Chickpeas and Farro

Serves 6 to 8

¾ cup farro

— Kosher salt

¾ cup chickpeas, dried

6 medium beets of choice, roasted in the oven until almost tender, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

— Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 bunch chard or beet greens, tough stems removed, leaves chopped

5 cups homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

½ bunch Italian parsley, leaves only, minced

— Black pepper in a mill

— Whole milk yogurt or creme fraiche

Fill a medium saucepan half full with water, add the farro, season with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Skim off the foam that forms on the surface of the water. Let the cooked farro rest, covered, for 10 minutes; drain off any water that is not absorbed.

Cook the chickpeas similarly, in plenty of boiling salted water, until tender; it may take as long as 45 minutes. Let rest in cooking liquid until ready to use, and then drain.

These two steps can be done several hours or a day in advance.

To finish the soup, cut the cooked beets into ⅜-inch small dice. Set aside.

Pour the olive oil into a soup pot set over medium low heat, add the onion and sautée until soft and fragrant, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sautée 2 minutes more. Stir in the lemon zest, beets and greens and season with salt.

Add the stock or water, the farro and the chickpeas and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, so that the flavors come together and the beets and greens are fully tender. Stir in the parsley, season with black pepper and correct for salt. If the soup is a bit too thick for your tastes, thin with water and heat through. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Ladle into soup plates, garnish with yogurt or crème fraiche and enjoy right away.


I like to serve this beautiful beet risotto with sautéed greens. If the beets have healthy leaves, I use them. If they don’t, I use whatever I have on hand — spinach, kale, chard, or mustard greens — and cook them in a bit of olive oil and garlic. All of these greens make a great bed for the risotto. The fonduta, while delicious, is not necessary; the risotto is great on its own.

Beet Risotto with Fonduta

Serves 4 to 6

1 bunch fresh beets (4 or 5 medium beets), trimmed

— Olive oil

— Kosher salt

— Fonduta (recipe follows), optional

6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, minced

1 leek, white part only, minced

2 cups Italian rice, preferably Vialone Nano or Carnaroli

3 ounces grated (¾ cup) Dry Jack, Estero Gold or similar cheese

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

— Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wash the beets, rub each with a little olive oil and set in a small, ovenproof pan. Bake until the beets are tender when pierced with a wooden skewer, about 40 to 60 minutes depending on the size and age of the beets. Remove from the oven, cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil or a tea towel, and let cool to room temperature. When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove their skins. Set 1 or 2 beets aside and cut the remaining beets into very small dice; set aside.

Prepare the fonduta, if using.

Pour the chicken stock into a saucepan set over medium-low heat; add 2 cups of water.

Put the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a wide deep saucepan set over medium low heat. Add the shallots and leeks and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt. Add the rice and stir constantly for 2 minutes or until the grains turn milky white.

Add the stock half a cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is tender, about 18 to 20 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed so that the stock neither evaporates upon hitting the pan nor sits without simmering.

Before the final addition of stock, stir in the minced beets and the cheese. Stir well, cover the pan and set aside briefly.

Working quickly, finish the fonduta, if using. Cut the reserved beet or beets into wedges.

To finish the risotto, return the pan to the heat, taste, correct for salt, season with several turns of black pepper, and add enough of the remaining stock to achieve a somewhat loose but not too soupy texture.

To serve, divide the risotto among individual soup plates. Spoon fonduta onto each plate, letting a little drizzle over the risotto. Garnish with beet wedges, sprinkle with Italian parsley and enjoy right away.


Serves 4 to 6

8 ounces Italian fontina, at room temperature

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup whole milk, warmed

1 tablespoon flour

1 egg yolk, beaten until pale

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

Put the cheese, butter and milk in the top half of a double boiler. Fill the bottom half of the double boiler one-third full with water, set over a very low flame and set the top half over the bottom half. When the cheese begins to melt, sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir until the mixture is smooth and the cheese is fully melted. Keep warm.

To finish, add the egg yolk, stir well, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.


Don’t make gnocchi on a busy weeknight or when you are in a hurry. If you’ve never made it before, there is a bit of a physical learning curve. It’s not difficult, but you do need to get the hang of pressing the gnocchi on the tines of a fork and flicking it away. In this dish, the flavor of beets is quite subtle; their primary contribution is a gorgeous color.

Beet Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Butter

Serves 3 to 4

1 stick (4 ounces) butter, preferably local

1 garlic clove, minced

⅓ cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted and minced

8 to 10 medium sage leaves, minced

— Black pepper in a mill

1 small (about egg-sized) red beet, roasted until tender and cooled

1½ pounds boiling potatoes, such as russets, boiled until tender and drained

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

— Whole sage leaves, for garnish

Put the butter into a small saucepan set over medium low heat, add the garlic, and simmer for about a minute. Stir in the walnuts and sage leaves and season with several turns of black pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Fill a large pot half full with water, season generously with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Peel the beet and chop it coarsely. Peel the potatoes.

Press the beet and the potatoes through a potato ricer into a medium bowl. (Alternately, you can use a food mill.)

Add the 2 teaspoons of salt and mix well with a fork. Begin to add flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the vegetables will not take any more of it. Mix well between additions.

Sprinkle flour on a clean work surface, turn out the mixture, and knead gently until very smooth and slightly sticky.

With your hands dusted with flour, roll the gnocchi into long cords about ¾ inch in diameter; cut each cord into ¾-inch pieces. Add flour to the work surface as needed.

Next, take a dinner fork in one hand, holding it sideways, with the prongs parallel to the cutting surface and the concave side facing toward you. With the other hand, place a dumpling on the inside curve of the fork just past the points of the prongs and press it against the prongs with the tip of your index finger pointing directly at and perpendicular to the fork. While pressing the dumpling with your finger, flip it away from the prong tips and toward the handle of the fork, and let it drop on the counter. The dumpling will be somewhat crescent shaped, with ridges on one side formed by the prongs and a deep depression on the other formed by your fingertip.

To cook the gnocchi, add about 10 to 12 at a time to the boiling water. When the gnocchi float to the surface, count to 5 slowly and then use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer them to a warmed bowl. Continue until all gnocchi have been cooked.

Drain any water that has collected in the bowl, add the walnut-sage butter, toss gently, and divide among individual soup plates. Garnish with sage leaves, add a few turns of black pepper and a sprinkling of salt, and enjoy right away.

Variation: Sauté beet greens in a bit of the walnut butter and use as a bed for the gnocchi. Youʻll need greens from 2 bunches of beets.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “California Home Cooking.” Email her at

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