Sunday, August 3, 2008

[I'm not going to make any puns about] Beets! Beets! Beets!

I can't claim to have been a big fan of beets, growing up. There was something about their deep, sweet, earthiness that my young palate found... unsettling.

Years later, I'm finding them to be a highlight of my Eat Local Summer, both for their flavor & the intense color they bring to dishes.

Local 100% grass-fed round tip steak with tarragon compound butter,
green beans, & golden beet-purple potato medley.

Seriously, I've been going crazy with these things. A few days ago, I came back from my day volunteering down on the farm (which really deserves its own post, or two) with a paper bag full of onions, carrots (finally!) & beet-parts.

While I was stripping & reserving the tender, mild greens for later use, I started nibbling a stalk on a whim. This led to a very interesting discovery; I noted a fairly strong taste of naturally occurring nitrates & a crisply fibrous texture... like celery! Could it be, the long sought local substitute for celery? I tried it out in a stock, along with some imported celery, & it seemed to work just fine. I haven't died yet, anyway, & there was no unpleasant taste. Beets may be a completely perfect vegetable.

I'll get to the main (meaty) course in a second, but first some hot veg-on-veg action:

Local double-roasted beets & "Japanese" eggplant with mascarpone
& farmstead feta, on a bed of wilted beet greens & shaved garlic.

This tasted absolutely sublime. I roasted the beets with the skin on, to intensify their natural sweetness, then rubbed the skin off & sliced them to roast again (briefly) with the eggplant. We may have reached the end of the green garlic season, so I found myself forced to buy "Spice Island (TM)" conventional garlic cloves at the last minute... from the convenience store. Not my proudest Eat Local moment, but I'll admit that it was nice to taste normal garlic again (even though it was in terrible condition). Anyway, I almost forgot about cooking the rest of my dinner after eating this. It was that good, & a lot easier than it might appear, as well.

I'm well known back home for my obsession with our humble friend, the green bean casserole. I always make my mushroom soup from scratch, use fresh beans, & fry up my own Durkee's-style crispy onions (usually shallots). Yes, this takes forever, but it's worth every second. Not that I have any problem at all eating the all-from-a-can variety when someone else makes it, mind you. Don't get it twisted.

Local pastured pork "sirloin chop" with wilted beet greens,
maple-glazed young carrots, & green bean casserole.

Obviously, this is really a "green & wax bean" casserole, but my clever little menu listing was running on a bit. The maple syrup was given to me by the woman who oversees the farm program I keep mentioning, & is made by a member of the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Pretty good stuff. Sometime soon I'll have to do an official taste test to compare this one to the Wild Country I've normally been using. I certainly never would have predicted that one day I would have two different high-grade maple syrups in my fridge simultaneously. My life is so hard, right?

Along with my current infatuation with beets, I think it's fair to say that the local food stock is really picking up steam. It feels like forever ago that we started this Challenge back around June-ish, with little more than salsa-makings available. Now the bounty is almost paralyzing. & it's just getting started.

All I know is that I'm thoroughly hooked & head-over-heels. What a great experience.

-nano out.

PS: For dessert, I boiled off some beet sugar & made my own homemade cotton candy... No, I'm lying. I totally didn't do that.

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