Working in a commercial kitchen, one gets used to witnessing atrocities performed against vegetables. It’s a combination of carelessness, always being short on time with too much to do, lack of respect for the product, or simply not knowing any better. It never gets any easier to watch asparagus or green beans get blanched into gray oblivion. Vegetables crowded on a sheet tray, steaming instead of roasting. Cauliflower boiled till breaking into fragments, instead of gently simmered until just tender.
The one atrocity I could never get over was witnessing the poor, thoughtless treatment of beets. Beets drowned completely in water, unseasoned, covered with plastic wrap, foil, thrown into an oven and then forgotten for hours until nothing remains but waterlogged sugary mush.
There is an easier, more delicate way.
Perfect Roasted Beets:
- Beets, of whatever variety or color desired
- Distilled, apple cider or champagne vinegar
- Kosher salt
- A few garlic cloves
- Fresh thyme
Trim the greens of the beets and leaving a small stump of stem, reserving the greens for sautéing if in good condition. Wash the beets well. Place in a roasting pan or oven-proof pot just big enough to contain them in a single layer. Add a healthy sprinkle of kosher salt over them. Slice a few cloves of garlic, or simply crush them lightly. Add these to the beets, along with a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a splash of vinegar, champagne is preferable, but distilled vinegar works perfectly well. Add just enough hot water to come up no more than 1/3 of the way up the beets.
Let’s emphasize these points: Season with salt and aromatics. A splash of vinegar. Use hot, boiling hot water. Cover no more than 1/3 of the height of the beets.
Cover with parchment paper and aluminum foil, or simply with a lid, or a baking sheet.
Place in a preheated 350°F oven.
This is the spot on the recipe where a definitive cooking time is given for these beets. There isn’t one. Everything about that cooking time will depend on the size of the beet, and the season in which it was grown. A monstrously large beet, larger than a softball, can take four hours or more to become tender. These beets should be cut into quarters for roasting, or frankly, avoided all together. A beet smaller than a golf ball, sometimes just half an hour. Winter beets will be a little tougher than summer beets, a little bit less sweet, and can take a bit more time to soften.
Instead of cooking the beets by a timer, cook them by smell and by feel. When ready, a beet will have the scent of sweet, moist earth. They will be slightly yielding when pushed, and the skin will easily peel away with the swipe of a finger. Test the beets by inserting a fork or toothpick into them. Ideally, these will penetrate with just the slightest bit of resistance, rather than smashing straight through.
Drain the beets and cool, uncovered, until cool enough to the touch.Trim the top of beets, and with a paper towel, gently peel the skin off the beets. Cool completely and cut into desired shapes.