Beets: People either love them or hate them, and this can create a divide at the dinner table. Now, I can’t promise that any of your beet-averse family members or friends will do a complete 180-degree turn on their opinion when it comes to these earthy roots. I can suggest, however, that this gratin might be your best chance to convert them.
Baby beets are mild and sweet, and their flavor is less assertive than their grown-up relatives. In this recipe, they are thinly sliced and blanketed in creamy layers of garlic, orange-infused sour cream and nutty, piquant Gruyere cheese. If you must cloak a vegetable, this is the way to do it.
Happily, all the flavors meld together, and while the beets are undeniably present, they are not overwhelming in flavor. As the beets roast, they release their juices, resulting in a dish streaked with vibrant flourishes of color. At the very least, everyone can agree that it makes for a stunning vegetarian showstopper. So, go ahead and give it a try. Let the skeptics eat with their eyes, and just perhaps, they’ll be convinced to pick up a fork.
I prepared this recipe with a variety of red, golden and Chioggia beets. So long as you scrub them well, you don’t need to peel them. (Their skin is a great source of nutrients.) Assemble the gratin in a casserole dish, or divide it between smaller vessels, such as individual ramekins or small cast iron skillets, for fun family-style dining.
Baby Beet Gratin With Orange and Thyme
Yield: Makes one (8-by-8-inch) gratin, serves 4 to 6
- Unsalted butter
- 2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk sour cream
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds baby beets, about 12, trimmed and scrubbed clean
- 4 ounces finely grated Gruyere cheese
- Chopped fresh thyme leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch gratin dish.
2. Whisk the sour cream, garlic, orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl.
3. Thinly slice the beets, preferably with a mandoline.
4. Arrange one-third of the beets slightly overlapping in the baking dish. Spoon one-third of the sour cream mixture over the beets, carefully spreading to cover. Sprinkle one-third of the cheese over the top. Lightly season with salt, pepper and a pinch of thyme. Repeat with two more layers.
5. Transfer the gratin to the oven and bake until the beets are tender and the gratin is bubbly and golden, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm.
Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories. You can find more recipes at chicago.suntimes.com/recipes.