Ugly but good. A perfect description for the beet, that brute of vegetables. When young, I despised beets, and there is inside me still today a vestigial revulsion. But this feeling has evolved into a well-rounded love-hate tending mostly toward love, as I continue to experience new and exciting preparations of this ruddy root.
In Italy, this time of year, barbabietole, as they are called in Italian, are available at the fresh fruit and vegetable vendors’ already oven-roasted for your convenience. There they sit—between sprigs of mint, lumpish Jerusalem artichokes (topinambur), and turnips—hideously appealing in their ashy, crackled skins.
My favorite way to prepare them—I find myself actually craving this dish—is to slice them and cover them with a sauce of the following ingredients swiftly blended in an herb mill: olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, one teaspoon sugar, a handful of shelled pistacchio nuts and a mixture (to taste) of fresh flat-leaf parsley and mint. Bright and citrusy, nutty and sufficiently salty, surprising yet earthy—this is one of those rare dishes in which each and every ingredient exalts the others. And it starts with a vegetable that resembles an oversized clod of dirt. How miraculous is that?