I am a beet convert. It took a good long time for me to reconcile their earthy taste. I gazed at beets from the sidelines, attracted to their vibrant magenta and ochre hues, cognizant of their nutrient-rich flesh, yet I shuddered at their redolence of dirt. As a cook, I wanted to love them. As a parent, I wanted to serve them. So, I willed myself to eat beets until I learned to appreciate them.
At first, I took baby steps. I nibbled small bites. I prepared them with limes and oranges, letting the acidity of the citrus tame their earthiness. I grew bolder and roasted beets in olive oil, discovering that fire and char nicely counteracted their dirt-like flavor. My go-to beet became the golden variety, which is pleasantly mild and nuttier in taste. And, eventually, I succeeded. Now, I am a full-fledged beet eater. I order beets in restaurants, and I cook with them. Yet, while I no longer shudder at eating a completely naked beet, I continually craft recipes that embrace the beet while tempering their earthy nature.
This recipe for Beet Gratin does just that. It's unambigous in its ingredients, allowing the beets to shine through in a cast of minimal characters. The co-stars of the dish happen to have their own strength and assertiveness, helping to tone down any earthy qualities that might be lurking in each bite. Layers of beets are thinly cloaked in olive oil. Gruyère cheese is sprinkled between the beets along with fresh thyme and a trace of nutmeg. The presentation is simple and absent of any gratin goopyness. The beets release their juices while cooking, saturating the gratin with their brilliant color, while the flavors meld together. When I made this, it was so good, everyone at the table was reaching for seconds. As a cook and as a parent, I find that a very good thing.
Beet Gratin with Gruyère and Thyme
I prepared this recipe in individual ramekins. A gratin dish will also work for family style serving. Red beets, golden beets or a combination may be used. Serves 4.
4 medium-sized red beets, peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.) Butter 4 ramekins. Thinly slice beets with a mandoline. Arrange one layer of sliced beets in each ramekin (one slice may fit perfectly.) Lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with cheese, a little thyme and a pinch of nutmeg. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat layering process until ramekins are full, pressing down lightly. Bake in oven until gratins are bubbling, cheese is golden and beets are tender, about 45 minutes. Serve warm with fresh thyme sprigs as garnish.
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