BABY BEET SALAD WITH APPLES, CANDIED WALNUTS, AND BALSAMIC REDUCTION

Excerpted from Crossroads by Tal Ronnen, with Scot Jones. (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Photographs by Lisa Romerein.

BABY BEET SALAD

When buying beets, choose the younger, smaller ones—large, mature beets can have a bitter, almost dirty taste, whereas baby beets have a sweet, more concentrated flavor (you can even eat them raw). For this recipe, use a mix of rainbow baby beets, not just the familiar red ones. Not only are golden and candy-stripe beets (also known as Chioggia) gorgeous, each adds its own flavor. And don’t discard the beet greens; they’re wonderful simply sautéed in olive oil and garlic or tossed into a soup, stew, or risotto.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons with balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 16 baby rainbow beets, such as golden, red, and candy stripe (about 3 bunches total; about 1 ½ inches in diameter), rinsed and tops trimmed
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple
  • ¼ cup Balsamic Reduction (recipe follows)
  • ½ cup Candied Walnuts (recipe follows)
  • ¼ cup Kite Hill almond ricotta
  • ¼ cup micro arugula
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

SERVES: 4

METHOD:

1. To prepare the beets: Pour 8 cups of filtered water into a medium pot and add the thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, agave, peppercorns, and salt. Add the beets and bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beets are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. To check for doneness, insert a paring knife into the center of a beet; it should slide in without any resistance.

2. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with water and adding a tray of ice cubes.
Drain the beets and transfer to the ice bath to cool.

3. Once the beets are completely cool, drain them and rub off the skins with paper towels. If using red beets, it’s wise to wear rubber gloves and put a piece of wax paper on your cutting board so everything doesn’t get stained red! Cut the beets in half or into quarters, depending on size. Put them in a bowl and refrigerate until chilled. (The beets can be prepared a day in advance, covered, and refrigerated.)

4. To prepare the apple: Remove the stem and halve the apple from top to bottom. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice the apple lengthwise as thin as possible; cut each slice in half so you end up with half-moons. Trim the remaining core.

5. To serve: Dip a pastry brush in the balsamic reduction and paint a long stripe along the base of a platter or on each of four individual plates. Arrange the beets decoratively on top and nestle the apple slices in between them. Top the salad with the candied walnuts, dollops of the cheese, and the arugula. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.

CANDIED WALNUTS

These candied walnuts will add a spicy-sweet crunch to your salads. Take note that cooked sugar is stubborn to remove from even nonstick pans. To clean, while the candied walnuts are drying, add water to the empty skillet and bring to a boil to dissolve the baked sugar. Remove from the heat, let cool, and wipe the pan dry.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup raw walnut halves and pieces
  • ½ up unrefined cane sugar
  • 2 tablespoons filtered water
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne

MAKES: 2 cups

METHOD:

1. Put a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the nuts, and lightly toast them, shaking the pan from time to time to prevent burning, until they smell nutty and are light golden, about 8 minutes.

2. Sprinkle the sugar over the nuts and cook, tossing, until the sugar melts, about 5 minutes. Add the water and the cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, until the nuts are caramelized and well coated in the sugar syrup, about 5 minutes.

3. Transfer the candied walnuts to a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper, making sure that the pieces are not touching or sticking together. Set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Leftover walnuts can be kept in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag for up to 1 week.

BALSAMIC REDUCTION

Made from the slow reduction of balsamic vinegar and agave nectar, this intensely flavored condiment is tart and thick. Be sure to keep an eye on the syrupy reduction as it simmers to prevent it from burning. Use it for Balsamic-Roasted Mushrooms with Shallots and Toasted Marcona Almonds (page 124), among other recipes, or drizzle over fresh strawberries.

INGREDIENTS:

  • ½ cup agave nectar
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 shallot, halved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

MAKES: ½ cup

METHOD:

1. Heat the agave in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until it thins out and is warmed, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and shallot and gently simmer, swirling the pan a few times, until the sauce has reduced and thickened to the consistency of maple syrup and coats the back of a spoon, about 50 minutes.

2. Remove the shallot and add a good pinch each of salt and pepper. The reduction can be stored covered at room temperature for up to 3 months.