Sunday, November 6, 2011

Beet It!

I love vegetables that taste like dirt. Mushrooms, spinach, carrots... all dirty-tasting veg in their own special ways, and I love em. But the topper has to be beets. I freaking love beets. (Qualifier: I love beets that are roasted. You can keep the sickly pickled beets out of a can that somehow found their way to the top of every green salad served in the 70s and tainted my love of beets until I grew up and wised up. Gag. As Oprah always says, "When you know better, you do better" - I know better and roast my beets these days. I'm catching up for nearly four decades of beet deprivation. But I digress.)

So when my mom was in town recently, we found some gorgeous beets at the last St. Helena Farmer's Market of the season. We decided to try and recreate a dish that we'd shared together when mom treated me to dinner at Pago in Salt Lake City that made me swoon: Cinnamon Beets.
Since the dish is no longer on their menu anymore (bastards!) we were recreating from memory. Luckily, it was pretty straightforward: roasted beets on a bed of simply-dressed arugula (lightly coated with EVOO) and served with a dollop of Greek yogurt. The twist was that the beets were topped with a generous sprinkling of a cinnamon/walnut crunch concoction that resembled the texture of a finely-ground cinnamon lollipop combined with finely chopped walnuts - it was the consistency of sand.

I will admit I was skeptical at the time: cinnamon and beets? Such an earthy (dirty) main ingredient paired up with basically cinnamon candy? Oh Lordy - am I ever glad I gave it a try (and you should too!) because the combination of flavors is dynamite. Damn you beets with cinnamon - I can't quit you!

Thank goodness my mom was around to help me with the candy part of the recipe. I would have had to search online (or more likely knowing me, wing it!) for a hard candy recipe that I could tweak to get maximum cinnamon flavor. But dear old mom basically had a hard candy recipe in her head. How handy is that?! So, we gave it a go, and the results couldn't have been any better. Her candy recipe is below. (Note: it makes LOADS of the stuff - I won't have to make it again for years - so you could probably cut it in half and still have extra to go around.) The rest of the dish is basically as I described above. If you don't know how to roast beets, I'm afraid you're on your own. (Just kidding! Check here.)

But seriously give it a try. So freaking good. Thanks Pago.

Cinnamon Hard Candy
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cube butter (1/4 cup)
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon oil
Combine all ingredients except for the cinnamon oil in a saucepan; stir over medium heat until all ingredients are melted into a syrup and come to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and continue to cook at a slow boil until the mixture has reached the hard-crack stage*. Once at hard-crack stage, add the cinnamon oil and stir well. Pour the candy syrup into a flat, greased cookie sheet and spread it out until it is very thin (be careful - it will be molten hot!!). Cool thoroughly.

Once cool, pop the candy from the pan (you may need a knife to break it up into large shards), and crush it by using a meat tenderizer or other heavy object! (Place it under a sheet of plastic wrap and pound away until it is crushed to the consistency of sand). Combine with an equal amount of finely-chopped walnuts for the beet topping.

*Not familiar with candy-making (what the heck is hard-crack stage??)? Here's a quick primer thanks to The Science of Cooking:

As a sugar syrup is cooked, water boils away, the sugar concentration increases, and the temperature rises. The highest temperature that the sugar syrup reaches tells you what the syrup will be like when it cools.

Hard-Crack Stage
300° F–310° F

The hard-crack stage is the highest temperature you are likely to see specified in a candy recipe. At these temperatures, there is almost no water left in the syrup. Drop a little of the molten syrup in cold water and it will form hard, brittle threads that break when bent. CAUTION: To avoid burns, allow the syrup to cool in the cold water for a few moments before touching it!

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