Why It Works
- Steeping cream and milk wth smoky Morita chilies livens up the earthy-sweet beets.
- Tossing thinly sliced beets with cornstarch before layering makes the gratin creamier and easier to slice.
- Covering the gratin with pierced foil while baking allows the cream mixture to reduce while still preventing the sugary beets from scorching.
- A small amount of sugar in the topping makes for a crispier crust.
Earthy beets are thinly sliced and layered, then submerged in a chili-spiked cream. It all bubbles together until the beets become tender and caramelized. The creamy gratin is topped with a crunchy mix of salted pistachios, panko bread crumbs, and a pinch of sugar to balance the chili's mellow heat.
- 1 cup (240ml) whole milk
- 3/4 cup (170ml) heavy cream
- 1/4 cup (60g) crème fraiche
- 5 Morita chili peppers (see note)
- 1 1/4 teaspoon (5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use about half by volume or the same by weight
- 1/2 teaspoon (3g) freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds beets (about 6 medium) washed and scrubbed
- 2 teaspoons (6g) cornstarch
- For the Topping:
- 1/2 cup (50g) shelled, toasted, salted, chopped pistachio nuts
- 1/2 cup (25g) panko breadcrumbs
- 4 tablespoons (60g) melted unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use about half by volume or the same by weight
In a small saucepan, combine milk, cream, crème fraîche, chilies, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside to steep, covered, for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F. Peel beets and, using a mandoline, slice into 1/8-inch thick slices. Place sliced the beets in a bowl and toss with cornstarch. Layer the beets in an oven-safe 10-inch skillet, pie pan, or 9- by 9-inch baking dish.
Bring the milk and cream mixture back to a boil, then strain, discarding solids. Pour cream over beets. Cover with aluminum foil, prick the foil all over with a knife, and bake until beets are tender, 1 hour.
For the Topping: In a medium bowl, stir together pistachios, panko, melted butter, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle evenly all over gratin, then bake uncovered until golden brown, about 30 minutes longer. Let the gratin rest 20 minutes before serving.
Morita chilies are a fruity and floral variety of chipotle peppers. If you cannot find them substitute 1/4 teaspoon each cayenne pepper and smoked paprika or 1/2 teaspoon of the adobo from canned chipotles. If you do use canned chipotles, skip the steep step and stir the adobo into the hot milk and cream mixture just before pouring over the beets to prevent the milk from curdling.