I enjoy these cool, drippy days when the winter rains finally come to the Bay Area; they give an illusion of changing seasons rare in our temperate climate. It's nice to put on my pumpkin-colored raincoat and tweed cap for the first time in months and head out to buy a new umbrella. It rains so infrequently during spring, summer, and early autumn, I invariably forget where I stored the previous season's umbrella and must replace it. I suspect that one day I'll open the right drawer or closet and find a mother load of previous season's parapluies.
While I'm out umbrella shopping, I'm also likely to pick up a few bunches of beets. For as much as I love eating adorable baby beets in the spring, I like them even better in the chilly days of autumn. The smell of damp earth and caramelized sugar while they roast seems to warm me from the inside. Plus, what better to counteract a damp, gray day than an intense infusion of beet pink?
Although I know it's possible to think of the pink as something of a menace, an infectious hue that must be segregated from all other foods until the last possible minute, I love that the color looks almost too intense to eat. That such a bright hue accompanies such rich, almost dirt-like taste always surprises me. Many of my favorite beet dishes take advantage of the pink, letting it bleed freely into the dish, and ensuring a truly dramatic presentation on the plate.
Contrary to recent popular preference, I prefer to peel beets before I cook them. It's true that the skins chafe off easily with a towel once the root has been roasted or boiled, but other problems then arise. For one, I never seem to let them to cool long enough to avoid scalding my fingertips. Also, I'd much rather wash the magenta stain off my hands than my kitchen towels. Most importantly, I think aromatics penetrate the beet better if it's peeled beforehand.
My preferred method is to fill the sink with a few inches of cold water and to use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove the skin. If I dunk the beet and my hands regularly, I end up with hardly a pink tinge and skinless beets ready to receive other flavors. I wrap them in a foil pouch with a few peeled garlic cloves, sprigs of thyme, and a drizzle of olive oil and sometimes balsamic vinegar. They're done after about an hour, or when they fall off the blade when pierced with a paring knife.
I typically roast at least two bunches at a time, then use them for different meals during the week. This week's batch went into a salad with apples and watercress that I served with seared salmon and horseradish crème fraiche, into risotto along with the beet greens, bacon, and cremini mushrooms, and on a turkey sandwich with some Cambozola cheese. I've eaten so much brilliantly pink food the last few days, beet-less meals seem a bit muted, almost like the gray as the sky outside.