Thanks to farmers who are growing under polytunnels -- also known as hoophouses -- fresh, local beets are available practically year round.
That's a reason to rejoice, especially for beet lovers.
Yes, it's hard to believe that not everyone is a beet lover, but there are skeptics out there. And those are the very folks who should be buying fresh beets in their beautiful shades of red and gold, and trying them out roasted and in salads. The freshly grown beets bear no resemblance to the canned purple slices in the grocery store, and once you make the switch, there's no turning back.
When you spot beets at local farmers' markets, try them out in this salad recipe. The bacon in the recipe will help lure the beet skeptics to the table.
BACON, BEET AND APPLE SALAD
Start to finish: 1 hour
2 bunches small beets, about 1- 1/2 pounds, tops and roots trimmed, scrubbed or peeled
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
6 cups tightly packed arugula
2 sweet-tart apples, such as Braeburn or Fuji, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ounces goat cheese
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the beets into wedges about 1 inch thick at the widest point. Toss them with the olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper, and put them in a shallow baking dish. Roast the beets until they're tender and slightly wrinkly, 30 to 45 minutes.
In a small saute pan, cook the bacon on medium-high heat until the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan, and drain on paper towels. Add the shallots and thyme to the bacon fat and cook until the shallots have softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour the shallots in a small bowl and add the vinegar and sugar, if using. (Don't wash the pan yet.) Taste the vinaigrette and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil (this will depend on how fatty your bacon is); add pepper to taste.
In the saute pan you used to cook the bacon, place the pumpkin seeds. Cook on medium heat, swirling the pan to prevent the seeds from burning, until they are toasted and have golden brown spots, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a small plate to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the arugula with about 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Arrange the arugula on a serving platter or in a wide serving bowl. Toss the roasted beets with another couple of tablespoons of vinaigrette and mound them on the greens. Do the same with the apples, arrange on the salad. Distribute the bacon over the ingredients, crumble the goat cheese on top and sprinkle on the toasted pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with any remaining vinaigrette. Serve right away.
-- Recipe from Martha Holmberg's "Fresh Food Nation," $22.95, Taunton Press