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I feel as though this recipe has been knocking around in my brain for some time now. Years, in fact. This was the first dish I ever made for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, John. I was out to impress--there's no doubt about that. And while I won't go so far as to say that this dish solidified our relationship, I will say it certainly didn't hurt a thing.
At the time, I was just feeling my way out of using recipes and into cooking by intuition. One of the first things I mastered in this way was roasted vegetables. I've talked about roasted vegetables many times on the blog because I don't think you can overestimate how awesome they are. Roasting improves almost any vegetable (or fruit), which is not something you can say about most preparations. The more I cook, the more I feel that fussing with good ingredients too much is the death of them. Not so when it comes to roasting.
Roasting concentrates flavors and caramelizes sugars. This cooking method can turn boring old potatoes into crisp, browned homefries or humble onions into melty, fragrant flavor bombs. If in doubt, roast it. It may sound overly simplistic, but I've never been disappointed by this technique.
For this dish, I roast beautiful beets until they're completely tender and a little bit caramelized, then I top them with a maple-balsamic reduction, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts. It sounds like something off a menu at a fancy restaurant (well, maybe a fancy restaurant three or four years ago!), but it's really quite easy and terribly impressive.
The only caveat I will give is that making the balsamic reduction can be quite smelly. Make sure you ventilate your kitchen, whether this means turning on your hood fan or setting up a fan and opening a window. Boiling vinegar is not the most pleasant thing to inhale, but the result is fabulous. You can actually buy balsamic reductions at the grocery store these days, but I would urge you to just buy some inexpensive balsamic vinegar and make your own.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Scrub well and cut into 1/2-inch slices:
1 1/2 pounds small beets
Toss the beets in a roasting pan with:
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Roast until tender, turning once or twice, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the balsamic glaze. Combine in a small saucepan:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
Reduce the glaze over medium heat until thickened and syrupy. Be sure to take it off the heat while it still appears fairly liquid, as it will thicken considerably as it cools. One way to test this is to put a spoon in the freezer as the reduction cooks, and occasionally test the reduction by dipping the spoon into it. When it thickens but is still liquid enough to pour, it is ready.
Arrange the beets on a platter. Spoon the reduction over them, then crumble on top:
4 ounces plain, fresh goat cheese
Sprinkle over the beets:
1/3 cup toasted walnuts