As the crisp air of fall approaches, our priorities start to shift. The kids are back into the routine of school, the beach gear is getting put away, and the grill is getting a bath before it goes in for the winter. Here at my place, the garden is waning, and what’s left in the ground heralds the coming chill: potatoes, onions, and winter squashes will be cured in the breezy and cool shade to prepare for their winter home in my root cellar. Dried onion tops will be braided to hang from the rafters like sleeping bats—they last until the following May at least—and the final batches of pickles and tomato sauce have been canned and stored. The firewood is in, next year’s logs are already bucked and starting their curing, and soon the herbs will be snipped and hung to dry to flavor holiday dinner. Even the chickens are wandering less and less from their home in the barn: they feel it coming too.
For those of us who love to cook, the coming winter also brings with it the promise of hearty stews, braises, and roasts—all the things too long-cooking and too body-warming to work in the dead of summer—the comfort foods that we associate with snowy days full of sledding or skiing or, in the case of us Mainers, the inability to leave our homes until the snow blower starts or the plow guy gets here.
But for every shank or rib or neck that makes it into your cold-weather repertoire, there exist countless other hearty but healthy permutations of seasonal ingredients that can satisfy your desires without triggering an accelerated trajectory toward hibernation weight. My Curried Squash and Apple Bisque with Leek utilizes seasonal ingredients to produce a warming cream soup that’s perfect for a cold night in: and it’s low fat and full of the vitamins your body needs. Roasted root vegetables–with a bit of good quality olive oil and fresh herbs–makes everyone happy. One of my personal cold-weather treats is oven roasted Brussels sprouts straight out of the garden after a hard frost; they take on an amazing sweetness, and the caramelization they receive in the hot oven gives them a meaty flavor that can’t be beat.
My Warm Beet Salad with Pistachios and Gorgonzola, below, is another way you can approach seasonal ingredients during a season that often seems, well, not so fresh. Beets are an excellent source of Vitamin C, fiber, and iron. Moms-to-be can rely on them as a great source of folate. While low in calories, beets are high in sugar, so care should be taken to exercise moderation. This salad balances the sweetness of the beets and caramelized onions with the piquant warm Dijon-onion vinaigrette and a healthy dose of baby spinach for contrast.
Small-scale farmers think beets store best buried in moist, clean sand in the root cellar; in fact, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between one stored for three months in this manner and one pulled straight from the ground. Fresh beets from the grocery are fine as well: just look for firm, unblemished roots: you don’t want to see any dings in the skin.
The beet’s sweet earthy flavor pairs well with a touch of richness such as the cheese and nuts I’m recommending in this salad recipe. You can substitute any crumbly and piquant cheese you desire—feta, queso fresco, chèvre—but I love Gorgonzola for its mild blue cheese flavor and super-creamy texture. If I wanted to go Super-Maine Locavore on this recipe, I would use wild hazelnuts or beech nuts on the salad; again, feel free to substitute the nut of your choice, whether it be a personal favorite or a local specialty.
If you have rubber gloves, I would definitely recommend wearing them to peel your beets, unless you enjoy explaining your pink fingers to everyone you encounter for the next 24 hours. Also, if you have access to baby beet greens, by all means substitute them for the spinach in this salad.
Servings: 6 (241 G)
Prep Time: 30 min.
Cook Time: 2 hours
- 2 ½ lbs. beets
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1½ Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 3 Tbsp. pistachios, chopped
- 1 oz. Gorgonzola cheese
- 1 scallion, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400ºF. Wash the beets and sprinkle with the salt. Wrap each beet tightly in a foil. Place beets onto the center of the middle rack of the oven and roast until tender (60-90 minutes). Unwrap beets and allow cool enough to handle safely (15-20 minutes).
- While the beets are cooling, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sauté the minced onion until soft and starting to brown (5-6 minutes).
- Remove onions from heat and whisk in the mustard and vinegar.
- Using paper towels, wipe away the skins of the beets.
- Divide spinach, beets, onions, and vinegar mix evenly. Top each plate with pistachios, cheese, and scallions.
About the Expert Chef
Erin Dow balances three food worlds. As a mother of three young children, she’s fighting the battle every parent faces: how to keep her kids interested in the foods that keep them healthy.
As the chef and owner of her catering company Eatswell Farm, she utilizes original recipes and techniques–focused on enhancing the enjoyment of locally-sourced ingredients–to best interpret the client’s vision. And as Consulting Executive Chef for Falmouth-based Professional Catering Services, a business specializing in production and backstage catering for concerts, she develops and executes menus that accommodate the strict nutritional requirements of the music industry elite.
Erin and her family raise their own chicken for meat and eggs, have dabbled in pastured Narragansett turkeys, and have a very weedy but very large and productive garden.