I love hazelnuts for their sweetness and Roquefort cheese for its earthy tang. But don’t let my touting this classic combination prevent you from playing around with other possibilities to pair with the beets, such as pine nuts and crumbled ricotta salata or pistachios with shaved pecorino.
3 medium beets, a mixture of red and golden, about 1 lb (500 g) total weight
1/4 cup (1 oz/30 g) hazelnuts
2 oz (60 g) pancetta, cubed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Large Bibb, butter, or romaine lettuce leaves
2 oz (60 g) Roquefort cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
Trim the beets, removing the tops but leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the stem to prevent the beets from bleeding. Place the beets in a baking dish and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Roast until just fork-tender. Start checking at 30 minutes; it may take up to 1 hour, depending on the size and age of the beets.
While the beets are roasting, toast the hazelnuts and fry the pancetta. To toast the nuts, place in a small, dry frying pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the nuts are fragrant and you can see they are just beginning to brown where the skins have flaked off, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately pour the nuts onto a clean dish towel; they can burn quickly. Gather up the corners of the towel and rub the nuts together until most of the skins come off. (Don’t worry about the bits that stick.) Chop the nuts coarsely and set aside.
Place the pancetta in a large dry frying pan over medium heat and sautÃ© until crispy, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Reserve the fat in the pan.
When the beets are fork-tender, remove them from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets by rubbing off the skins. To avoid staining your hands, use a paper towel. Cut the beets into slices or bite-size cubes, add them to the rendered fat in the reserved pan, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter or on individual plates. Mound the beets on the lettuce leaves and squeeze the lemon over. Scatter the Roquefort, hazelnuts, and parsley over the top and serve right away.
Fresh Take: I used a mixture of golden and red beets here, but you can opt for one color only. You can also trade out the parsley for fresh oregano.
Easy Dressing: The beets take a while to cook, but you save time on the dressing: it’s just the fat left over from frying the pancetta plus a squeeze of lemon juice.
© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.