San Francisco is not a big city. It has maybe 800,000 residents and the “urban” area of the city (i.e. the parts you want to visit) has maybe 150,000 people. The city does seem “large”, however, in terms of its attractions; scenery, art, wine, food and restaurants. But it is the “smallness” of the city that often shows at odd times and in interesting ways (and yes this has to do with beet salad, bear with me).
Such is the case with restaurant reviews in San Francisco. There is really only one major newspaper left, the Chronicle, and they have only one major restaurant reviewer, Michael Bauer. I have no issue with Michael Bauer, I like his work and I think his reviews are professional and useful to diners. But as the lone “big time” restaurant reviewer in the city, most restaurateurs know his tastes and preferences, and often you see similar items in sometimes very dissimilar places. And it turns out, Michael Bauer really likes beet and goat cheese salads.
And what’s not to like? Beets are sweet, the cheese is tart, salty and creamy and greens add bitter notes and crunch. If you add some kind of flourish and assemble well, you have a perfect dish. Great for a light lunch or starter at dinner. But of course, for about ten years, all you saw in San Francisco were beet and goat cheese salads. Right on top of the menu. Some great, some good, some probably “because Michael Bauer may review us”. Now this may have been happening everywhere, but it became almost a game for us here in the bay area. We literally used to say; “bet they have a beet and goat cheese salad” when we first went to a place on the city. We were usually right. And, after a while, it seems many people felt the same way and the beet and cheese salad has become a bit cliché. You see the beet and goat cheese salad less and less.
But what is passé at a restaurant can still be a great dish at home. And beet, cheese and green salads are easy to make and they certainly taste good. Now, many of you might say, “I don’t like beets”. But I bet you are thinking of big red beets. If you don’t like red beets, try making this with golden or chiogga beets. They are just as sweet, perhaps sweeter, and do not have the “redness” issues of the traditional beet. In winter, when almost every other vegetable is bitter, the beets are sweet. We are partial to golden beets. The golden beet’s flavor reminds us of summer corn on the cob and they are simply beautiful on the plate.
As for this recipe, we have pulled from a few sources including a recent recipe from the Chronicle (shocking) and Anne Burrell. Our changes include the use of Pecorino or other hard sheep’s milk cheese and using a bit of orange juice in the salad. Oranges and beets are a natural fit and we like the harder, saltier cheese. The macerated shallots are easy to make, add a nice sweet and sour component to the salad and they match extremely well with the parsley. But the macerated shallots are a very strong flavor, so go easy.
As for assembling the salad, the only major effort is roasting and skinning the beets. Beets are easy to roast, but you will need to let them cool and skin them by rubbing them with a kitchen towel. Assuming you cooked the beets enough, it is messy, but easy work. You can also roast and skin the beets ahead of time, as they will keep for a few days in the fridge. For a nice presentation, thinly slice the beets with a sharp knife. You could also quarter the beets; the dish will taste just as good (I won’t tell). Macerating the shallots is also easy, just thinly slice the shallots and put them in vinegar for 10-15 minutes. We use arugula and parsley as the greens in this dish, we like their peppery and bitter notes (we also grew them- so that is a bonus).
Finally, we should note that this is a recipe you can play with. The basic combination of beets, cheese and greens can be tweaked endlessly to fit your tastes. Try it out and have fun experimenting. And if you ever open a restaurant in San Francisco, make sure you have this salad on the menu.
Roasted Beet Salad with Pecorino and Macerated Shallots:
Notes Before You Start:
– You can use any tangy cheese in the salad, but usually a goat and/or sheep’s milks cheese will work best.
What You Get: A tasty, classic salad with a full range of flavors. Healthy, as well.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? It will take up to an hour for the beets to cook and 30 minutes or more to cool. You can roast and skin the beets ahead of time. Assembling the salad takes about 15-20 minutes.
– 6 medium-sized beets, red, gold or chiogga
– 1 large shallot
– Red wine vinegar
– ¼ cup fresh orange juice
– Olive oil
– Black pepper
– Pecorino cheese (or another hard or semi-hard sheep’s or goat’s milk cheese), thinly sliced or shaved, Assume 3-4 slices of cheese per plate
– 1 bunch Arugula or other bitter green
– 1 bunch Italian parsley
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Trim top from beets. Place beets on a sheet pan or baking dish. Rub each beet lightly with olive oil and sprinkle on salt and pepper.
- Place beets in oven and cook for 1 hour, or until done. Beets are done when you can insert the tip of a knife into the beet and remove it without resistance. When done, remove beets from oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes.
- While beets are cooling, thinly slice the shallot and place into a small bowl. Cover with red wine vinegar and macerate for 10-15 minutes. Then remove shallots from the vinegar. Set aside.
- Once beets are cool, skin the beets using a kitchen towel.
- Slice beets into thin slices, about 1/8 inch.
- To assemble salad, layer the beet slices on a plate. Add a few slices of the macerated shallots. Add the arugula and parsley on top of the beets. Drizzle on olive oil and orange juice. Place the cheese on top of the greens and then season with salt and pepper. Serve.