Bon Appétit (January 2009)
We've said this before, but we just love cooking with beets. Their deep, sweet, almost earthy taste is unique and delicious. And they're versatile, too. They pair perfectly with tangy citrus flavors, but they're also a great match for sharp contrasts, such as goat cheese.
But we hadn't ever thought of the possibility of pairing beets with country ham and cornbread. For us, the notion was completely out of left-field.
It also sounded too delicious not to try immediately.
Let's put one thing out there right up front: This salad is a lot of work. There are essentially five major components -- roasting and peeling the beets, making cornbread, preparing the vinaigrette, cooking the country ham and then assembling the salad itself.
We were serving this for a dinner with a few friends on a Wednesday night, so we tried to minimize the á la minute preparation by roasting the beets and baking the cornbread the night before.
Still, there was a lot of work to be done the night of the dinner -- and unless you have multiple ovens, many of the steps (making the croutons, roasting the onions, and cooking the ham) must be done sequentially. Nothing is all that hard here, but it still took us about two hours on the night of (again, after we'd already roasted the beets and baked the cornbread) to pull this all together.
There was one step we think you could cut out entirely -- the preparation of the beets for roasting. This recipe calls for a hefty handful of ingredients -- including fresh thyme and a bay leaf -- to use in the roasting of the beets. Our normal method is simply to roast the beets in a very shallow pool of water. We couldn't taste any difference in these fancy-roasted beets at all. Save yourself a little time and just roast the beets plain in a little water.
Melissa Clark at the New York Times suggested last week that cooks shun this widely used method of cooking beets and peel the beets prior to roasting, so as to cut down the cooking time, maximize caramelization and minimize staining. We're dying to try it -- if you do, let us know how it turns out!
And here's a note about country ham -- we had a surprisingly hard time finding it. Maybe our problem was that we started at the wrong end of the market spectrum. We first tried the Dupont Farmers Market with no luck. Whole Foods was a bust, and Harris Teeter only had thick country ham steaks. Even Safeway was out, although the butcher there told us the store usually has some in stock.
We ultimately found some country ham at the cheap-o neighborhood bodega around the corner from our house. Maybe you'll have better luck with country ham, but our advice would be to start at the "bottom" of your food-source options and work up.
So the ham was hard to procure, and the salad took a long time to prepare.
But here's the kicker -- it was worth it! The mix of textures and flavors here -- the cool juicy beets, the warm crusty cornbread, the crisp salty ham, the tart citrus-y dressing and the sharp creamy goat cheese -- was just out of this world. Each forkful was such a perfect bite of all the different tastes.
We'd make this again for sure, but given the time requirements, maybe we'll serve slightly larger portions and just call it an entree.
* 3/4 cup water
* 6 tablespoons butter, melted
* 6 large fresh thyme sprigs
* 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
* 1 1/2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
* 1 bay leaf
* 8 1 1/2-inch-diameter baby beets (preferably assorted colors), trimmed
* 1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
* 1/3 cup White Lily all purpose flour or cake flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
* 1 cup buttermilk
* 1 large egg
* Peel from 1 orange (orange part only), cut into thin 2-inch-long strips
* Peel from 1 lemon (yellow part only), cut into thin 2-inch-long strips
* 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
* 1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
* 2 tablespoons sorghum syrup* or honey
* 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
* 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
* 6 tablespoons peanut oil
* 3 small sweet onions (such as Vidalia or Maui; about 1 pound), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
* Olive oil
* Coarse kosher salt
* Nonstick vegetable oil spray
* 3 oz very thinly sliced country ham or prosciutto
* 4 teaspoons minced plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
* Fleur de sel
* Cracked black peppercorns
* 1 5-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
* Aged balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix first 6 ingredients in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add beets and toss to coat. Cover with foil and roast until beets are tender, about 45 minutes. Cool; peel.
Place 9- or 10-inch-diameter cast-iron skillet in oven; preheat to 400°F. Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. Whisk melted butter, buttermilk, and egg in another medium bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients; whisk batter to blend.
Place 2 tablespoons butter in hot skillet; swirl to coat. Add batter. Bake until top is golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool in skillet. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; store at room temperature.
Add enough water to small saucepan to measure 1 1/2 inches; bring to boil. Add orange peel. Blanch 1 minute; drain. Repeat blanching procedure with lemon peel; reserve lemon peel for serving. Return orange peel to same pan and add orange juice, grapefruit juice, and sorghum syrup. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until reduced to generous 1/3 cup, about 20 minutes. Whisk lemon juice and mustard in medium bowl; whisk in oil. Whisk in orange-grapefruit reduction. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Preheat broiler. Line small baking sheet with foil. Place onion slices with rings intact on sheet. Brush with oil; sprinkle with coarse salt. Broil onions until browned, watching closely to prevent burning, about 10 minutes. Turn and broil until browned, about 5 minutes longer.
Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Cut cornbread into 1/2-inch cubes. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread cornbread in even layer on prepared sheet. Toast until golden brown around edges, turning occasionally, about 35 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange ham in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Top with another sheet of parchment paper, then another rimmed baking sheet to press ham. Roast until ham is crisp, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness of ham. Remove top baking sheet and parchment paper. Cool. Break ham into bite-size pieces.
Whisk 4 teaspoons minced parsley into vinaigrette. Mix in reserved lemon peel. Quarter beets. Toss with some of vinaigrette (if using assorted colors, toss in separate bowls). Sprinkle with fleur de sel and cracked black pepper. Separate onion rings. Divide rings among plates in single layer. Arrange beets in and around onion rings. Sprinkle goat cheese over. Scatter ham and croutons over. Sprinkle fleur de sel and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley over. Drizzle with some of remaining vinaigrette and aged balsamic vinegar.