When I was growing up, consumption of root vegetables was limited to carrots and potatoes. I have since tried to branch out, sampling whatever roots I can find: rutabaga, radishes, beets, parsnips, and even yuca. So far, beets are by far my favorite (though I have yet to try the parsnips). Beets are an incredible vegetable. In the shop they are gnarled, dark purple, and sport vibrant greens with red veins. Scrubbed and cut they practically glow red. Roasted in olive oil they maintain their earthiness and feel purifying to eat. Sauteed in butter they take on a rich sweetness. The latter is the basis for my latest obsession: beet pie.
This is a recipe I developed after having a beet tart at Sea Rocket Bistro. The tart I ordered had a thin savory crust, a thick layer of sliced beets, and a very conservative sprinkling of goat cheese over the top. It was delicious and I wanted to make my own. I also thought I might be able to improve upon the model ever so slightly.
For the pie filling I use Deborah Madison’s “5 minute beet” recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The crust is a recipe from the same book. Given that I had the idea from a restaurant, and the components come from a cook book, I must admit little originality in this recipe. However, I would argue that genius is quite often the ability to combine old ideas in a new way.
Here is the recipe in its pure simplicity. It takes about 40 minutes, but most of that is baking time. Preheat oven to 400 F.
For the crust: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 stick butter, pinch of salt, 3-4 tablespoons cold water. Add salt to flour and cut butter in until the mixture resembles a course meal. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing continuously, until the dough starts to hold together. Once cohesive, turn out onto a board and knead briefly until it forms a ball. Then roll the dough between 2 sheets of parchment and turn out directly into the pie tin. Form the lip of the crust as desired; I always go for pinching it between my two thumbs and forefingers so it gets the fat-skinny-fat pattern.
For the filling: 4 medium to large beets washed, scrubbed, and grated, 1 tablespoon butter, 0.5 cup water, and salt and pepper to taste. Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the beets, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss. Saute 1-2 minutes until the beets start to soften up. Add the water, cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes. Then remove the lid, crank the heat, and simmer until all the liquid evaporates.
Finally add the beets to the pie crust, trying to form a solid even layer. Crumble 4 oz of goat cheese over the top in as even a layer as you can be bothered with. Bake at 400 F until the crust is golden and the cheese is caramelized, about 35 minutes. The result is a beautifully red-purple pie, speckled with creamy rich tanginess. Great warm or cold, for dinner or desert. Bon appetite.