Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hidden Beets

There are many reasons for people to hide food: to protect it, to keep it for themselves, to keep calories out of sight. I hide beets, but for none of those reasons. I hide them because I’m afraid of them.

First I hide beets in the refrigerator, cramming them into the back on the bottom in hopes they will be assumed into root vegetable heaven when I’m not looking. This never happens. Beets are immortal. This is why they have become a staple food among peoples who have come to understand and appreciate them. I am descended from some of these folks. So much for genetics.

When I finally realize that the beets in the refrigerator are not going away on their own, I have to find a way to eat them. I continue to explore “safety beet” recipes like these Beet and Carrot Burgers or Black Beans with Beets and Oranges, but I’m also learning to hide them in other dishes, like Potatoes Anna.

Potatoes Anna is made by layering very thinly-sliced potatoes in a cast iron (my preference) pan with butter, salt and pepper, and baking it until the potatoes sort of meld together into a nice brown cake. I had some potatoes that were getting uppity, sprouting delusions of grandeur, so I thought this would be a good thing to make to hide some beets from myself and still keep them from going to waste. I like to use a mandolin-style V-slicer to cut the potatoes and beets as thinly as possible. You could probably use a knife if you’re particularly skilled.

When I made this before (and other dishes as well), I found that beets don’t seem to cook as quickly as other vegetables, especially potatoes. They stay firm enough to really announce themselves amongst the layers (like their weird reddish-purplish color and wicked taste don’t do that enough already). This time I solved the problem by partially cooking the beets before slicing them and layering them with the potatoes. They still have a slight textural difference (they tend to be a bit slipperier than the potatoes), but overall this method was a success.

I won’t pretend I can’t taste the beets in this dish, but it definitely fits my definition of “safety beets.” Since I haven’t seen a recipe like this published anywhere, I’d like to call it “Potatoes Anne Marie,” but I’m really not ready to have my name go down in history in association with beets. Maybe next year.

Potatoes Anna with Hidden Beets
I recommend peeling, slicing and layering one potato at a time. It will keep them from turning brown while you work, and if you find you have allocated more potatoes than you need, you won’t be left with unnecessarily sliced potatoes.

12 ounces (about 350 g) whole beets
2 pounds (about 1.3 – 1.5 kg) potatoes
3 tablespoons (30 ml) unsalted butter, melted, divided
2 teaspoons (10 ml) coarse (kosher) salt, divided
¾ teaspoon (about 3 ml) freshly ground black pepper, divided

1. Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C). Scrub the beets and cut off any remaining greens or root tips. Place the beets in a microwave-safe bowl or on a microwave-safe plate (the dish will get beet juice on it, but should be washable). Microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Peel the beets and slice very thinly, preferably using a mandolin-style slicer.

3. Peel and slice potatoes very thinly, as you did the beets. I recommend working with one potato at a time to prevent browning. Do not rinse the potatoes. They need their starch to stick together in the pan.

4. Brush the bottom and sides of a 10-inch (25 cm) cast iron pan with melted butter. Arrange a layer of the sliced potatoes, slightly overlapping each other, in the pan. Brush the layer of potatoes with butter and sprinkle with a pinch of the salt and a small pinch of the pepper.

5. Place another layer similarly over the top of the first. Brush with butter and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a small pinch of pepper. Repeat this procedure with half the beet slices. Place two more potato layers, then place the remaining beets. Place the remaining potatoes in similar layers, brushing the final layer with butter and sprinkling it with salt and pepper.

6. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the potatoes and press down to compact the layers slightly. Place a heavy oven-proof object, such as a skillet or saucepan (I use a cast iron sandwich press) on top of the foil.

7. Place the pan in the oven and bake at 450 F for 25 minutes. Remove the weight and the foil and continue to bake for 20 minutes more.

8. Remove from the oven and cool 5-10 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the pan to loosen anything that may be sticking. If desired, place a serving plate large enough to hold the potatoes over the pan. Carefully flip the pan to release the potatoes and beets onto the plate. They should come out easily and hold together in a cake-like shape. Slice into wedges and serve. If you do not want to flip the potatoes onto a serving plate, you can simply cut and serve from the pan.

Makes 6-8 side-dish servings.

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