by Jennifer Meehan
If we weren’t in the midst of the summer’s first official heatwave, the mention of root vegetables might make you think of the cold dead of winter when it can seem that the only local produce to be found are potatoes…and more potatoes. In reality, some root vegetables flourish all year round, including right now – at the peak of summer. Case in point: beets!
The tables at the S. & S. O. Produce Farm‘s stand at the Greenpoint McCarren Park Greenmarket this past weekend were piled high with bright yellow and red beets. S. & S. O. is a family-owned farm in Goshen, NY – part of the “black dirt” region of Orange County.
The black dirt region is flat flood plain that was once the bottom of a giant shallow lake formed as the ice-age glaciers melted 12,000 years ago. The flat plain is speckled with “islands” – isolated hills rising above the valley floor that once were, in fact, islands. The black dirt itself is a rich, airy soil full of nutrients – perfect for farming.
I stopped by to chat with Rudy Tomascelli, a farmer who has been working the fields at S. & S. O. since 1996. He’s a friend of the Kettenrings, the family that owns the farm, and like several of the farmers I’ve spoken with, he got his start in agriculture helping out at the Greenmarkets before transitioning over to working the land.
Beets grow all summer and through the fall, and Rudy likes growing them – they’re popular and versatile, and the farm sells a lot of them. Beets grow quickly. Rudy says S. & S. O. plants them every three weeks throughout the season to ensure a constant supply.
According to Rudy, early in the season the beetroots (the colorful spherical bulb at the base of the plant that most of us think of when we think of beets), grow slowly and stay quite small. By late July, they grow almost to the size of a tennis ball. Beetroots are easy to prepare. They can be baked, boiled, roasted, or shredded and eaten raw.
While most people focus just on the bulbous beetroot, the green tops are super-nutritious and tasty themselves. They can easily be cooked in the same way you’d prepare spinach, chard (which is in fact a a very close relative of the beet plant), or any other leafy green.
Turns out, while Rudy likes growing beets, he doesn’t like eating them. He likens their earthy flavor to dirt, but he was still happy to talk about them!
I later spoke with Tanoreen’s Chef/owner Rawia Bishara and asked what her favorite beet preparation method is. She said that one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant is her Fresh Summer Beet Salad. To make it, she boils the beetroots, then peels and slices them. She adds fresh basil and mint, walnuts and slivered almonds and dresses it with lemon juice and a pesto sauce. Rawia says it’s best served cold or at room temperature.
Here are a few more simple beet recipes you might enjoy:
Raw Beet Salad variations from Mark Bittman
Simply Roasted Beets from Cathy Erway
Beet Greens and Goat Cheese Crostini from Todd Porter and Diane Cu