I typically think of beets as a late-fall or winter vegetable, since they store very well after their growing season. But early to midsummer is the best time to enjoy the sweetest, smallest beets of the year. Beets and horseradish are a classic Slavic/Jewish combination, and I think they work particularly well when those beets are roasted to enhance their sweetness and the horseradish comes in the form of a creamy sauce.
I start by roasting beets using my tried-and-true method: I form a pouch out of aluminum foil; place the beets inside with a little bit of oil, salt, and pepper (you can also add some herbs for extra aroma if you like); then seal it tight and throw it on a tray and into a 375°F (190°C) oven. The beets end up roasting in their own steam, which gives them a deep beet-y flavor. As soon as they're tender enough to pierce easily with the tip of a toothpick or a metal skewer, they're done; it should take about an hour and a half total. You can poke your toothpick or skewer straight through the foil to test.
The best part is that roasting beets like this makes them extremely easy to peel. Their skins slip right off under cool running water.
While the beets roast, I toss together the horseradish cream, which is as simple as it gets: crème fraîche and prepared horseradish, seasoned to taste with some salt and pepper. This combo, by the way, isn't good for beets only—it's an excellent sauce for cold roast beef or steamed asparagus, or on seared tuna or a potato salad or any number of other cold or green dishes. Horseradish and crème fraîche is one of my go-to combos.
I let it sit in the fridge (after doing a few extra taste tests with my finger, of course) to allow the sauce to thicken and the flavors to mingle as the beets finish up.
Beets love horseradish, but, as with any proper love affair, they need a little saucing up first. I like to give the beets a base layer of flavor by tossing them with a simple vinaigrette made with minced shallots, lemon juice, and olive oil, flavored with a touch of honey—I love the way the sweetness of honey brings out the natural earthy sweetness of the beets—and some minced tarragon and chives.
To serve, I pool some of the horseradish cream in the bottom of a bowl, then pile the beets on top.
It's really delicious, and near perfect as is, but if you're feeling a little experimental, there's no harm in inviting a third guest to the party. Pistachios are another classic and natural pairing with beets—they add texture and a great toasty flavor to the mix.
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