Baby Beet Salad with Apples, Candied Walnuts, and Balsamic Reduction
When buying beets, choose small, young ones—large, mature beets can have a bitter, almost dirty taste, whereas baby beets have a sweet, more concentrated flavor (you can even eat them raw). For this recipe, use a mix of rainbow baby beets, not just the familiar red ones. Not only are golden and candy-stripe beets gorgeous, but each also adds its own flavor.
To prepare the beets: Pour 8 cups of filtered water into a medium pot and add the thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, agave, peppercorns, and salt. Add the beets and bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beets are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. To check for doneness, insert a paring knife into the center of a beet; it should slide in without any resistance. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with water and adding a tray of ice cubes. Drain the beets and transfer to the ice bath to cool. Once the beets are completely cool, drain them and rub off the skins with paper towels. If using red beets, it’s wise to wear rubber gloves and put a piece of wax paper on your cutting board so nothing gets stained red! Cut the beets in half or into quarters, depending on size. Put them in a bowl and refrigerate until chilled. (The beets can be prepared a day in advance, covered, and refrigerated.) To prepare the apple: Remove the stem and halve the apple from top to bottom. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice the apple lengthwise as thin as possible; cut each slice in half so you end up with half-moons. Trim the remaining core. To serve: Dip a pastry brush in the balsamic reduction and paint a long stripe along the base of a platter or on each of four individual plates. Arrange the beets decoratively on top and nestle the apple slices in between them. Top the salad with the candied walnuts, dollops of the cheese, and the arugula. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.
4 fresh thyme sprigs 2 bay leaves 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon agave nectar 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning 16 baby rainbow beets (golden, red, and candy stripe), about 3 bunches total, about 1½ inches in diameter, rinsed and tops trimmed 1 large Granny Smith apple ¼ cup Balsamic Reduction (recipe follows) ½ cup Candied Walnuts (recipe follows) ¼ cup ricotta cheese ¼ cup micro arugula Freshly ground black pepper Extra-virgin olive oil
Put a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the nuts, and lightly toast them, shaking the pan from time to time to prevent burning, until they smell nutty and are light golden, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over the nuts and cook, tossing, until the sugar melts, about 5 minutes. Add the water and the cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, until the nuts are caramelized and well coated in the sugar syrup, about 5 minutes. Transfer the candied walnuts to a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper, making sure that the pieces are not touching or sticking together. Set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Leftover walnuts can be kept in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag for up to 1 week.