Choose heirloom beets for pretty presentation
I found myself ensconced recently in the haute cuisine EPIC restaurant, off the lobby in the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, where as you may imagine the cuisine is creative, always fresh and, these days, deliberately local.
Seems it’s a chain-wide hotel policy to promote Canadian, seasonal and healthy ingredients whenever possible — to the point the Royal York, among some dozen Fairmont properties across North America, actually produces its own honey from hives located above the 14th floor.
I was especially impressed by executive chef Tim Palmer’s refreshing Ontario Beet Salad, a welcome and timely choice given the sultry weather we’ve had of late. For reasons I’ve never quite figured, people generally pass by the lowely beet when they think salad at home, which is a gosh-darn shame given its rich flavour and incredible versatility steamed, boiled, baked or pickled.
In this case, Palmer steams them in the oven before removing the skins (in this heat I’d use a gas grill like an oven and bake the beets on the top bun warmer), then chills them before dressing in a lively lemony dressing embellished with — you guessed it — some of that wonderful honey the hotel bees make from nectar gathered from ragweed (or whatever) up and down the Don Valley. How poetic is that?
Of course, in my household I’m just as likely to use honey from the Ottawa or Carp Farmers’ Market, but in a pinch Billy Bee will do.
At home I always keep a box of cheap disposable latex gloves handy for such messy tasks as rubbing the skin off cooked beets — it’s the easiest way to avoid staining your fingers and well worth the cost, believe it.
For extra visual appeal, choose an arrangement of traditional purple with lighter orange, yellow or striped Chioggia beets you can find in any good outdoor market.
And, those decorative brown dots in the foreground of the picture are drops of reduced balsamic vinegar, which you can easily make in a saucepan by taking 2 cups (500 mL) each of supermarket balsamic vinegar, dry red wine, and brown sugar; bring to a simmer in a saucepan, add 1 clove, three drops or so of vanilla, 1 stick of cinnamon, and simmer gently to reduce to the consistency of pancake syrup. When done, fish out the solid bits and refrigerate in a handy squeeze bottle — it easily keeps for weeks in the icebox, and adds such a lovely touch to plates that people will think you’re a genius.
Enjoy this ridiculously good salad al fresco, bask in the accolades, and think of the busy bees.
Royal York Ontario Beet Salad with Ontario Feta, Hazelnut and Lemon Dressing
- 18 heirloom baby beets (three different colours would be pretty)
- For the dressing:
- Juice of 4 lemons
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Dijon mustard
- 1 shallot, chopped rough
- 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) honey
- 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (200 mL) canola oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
For the plate:
- 4 cups (1 L) Lolla Rossa rinsed, pat dried (or other young tender salad greens)
- 1 pear, cored and sliced thin
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) cruymbled feta cheese
- 2 hazelnuts, gently toasted and crushed rough
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
Balsamic reduction, to decorate
For the beets, preheat oven to 350 F (180C). Place beets an an 8-inch (20-cm) pan, add water and clover with foil; bake 40 minutes before checking for doneness (a paring knife should cut cleanly to the core). Remove from over and let rest 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Wearing latex or rubber kitchen gloves, remove the skin (it should come away easily) and refrigerate until chilled.
For the dressing, combine all incredients except oil and purée in a blender; while motor is running, slowly add oil in a trickle until dressing is fully emulsified; season to taste with salt, pepper.
To plate, dress beets with about 3/4 cup (175 mL) of the lemon dressing; place three on each plate, followed by lolla rossa (or other young and tender greens). Drizzle with a little of the remaining dressing and garnish with remaining ingredients as you prefer.