Updated: Jul 12
Confession: I am not a fan of beets. I have always found them to have a troubling texture (like a cold boiled potato, without the creaminess) and an earthy flavor that borders on musty. I also have less than fond childhood memories of them being served almost every lunchtime by my grandmother in England, whenever we stayed with her at her seaside home in Essex.
Back then, the only beets I knew came straight from a can and tasted sharply sweet and sour. My grandmother (who was otherwise a wonderful cook) served them cold, alongside butter lettuce, dry York ham, crumbly cheddar cheese and fresh, crusty white bread from a loaf called a Bloomer that she picked up from the local bakery on her bike each day. I ate the beets without complaint, having been raised to finish everything on my plate, but I always made sure to finish them first, so I could move onto the stuff I really liked - namely, the soft, chewy white bread slathered thickly with salted butter.
In the years since, I have tried cooking beets various ways, including roasted, boiled, and blended into borscht, but it still seems to me that the best way to complement the dull flavor is to counterbalance it with strong, salty-sharp flavors, and a touch of something sweet. So when a friend asked me to make her some beet pesto, I decided to experiment, and finally settled on a combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, fresh rosemary, Greek feta and salt. The garlic and rosemary in this recipe both work well, since both are bold flavors that tend to overpower or clash with other strong flavors; while the feta holds its own, adding a bracing touch of salty brininess that contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar.
I experimented with adding walnuts or pinenuts to the recipe, but ultimately concluded they didn't add anything to the flavor or texture of this pesto, although you certainly can add them for protein.
I would not serve beet pesto with pasta, since this is not a dish I have ever seen being eaten in Italy, but it does make a bright, beautiful base for crostini. And if you choose to forego blending the beets, but instead simply toss them with garlic, feta, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, olive oil and salt, you will have a beautiful salad - one I dare say would be delicious eaten with some crusty fresh bread and salted butter.
Beet Pesto Crostini
2 medium red beets, roasted or boiled and cooled to room temperature
1/3 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 tablesppon Aged Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2oz feta, crumbled
Blend ingredients and serve over toasted bread drizzled generously with olive oil, rubbed with a clove of raw garlic, and sprinkled with flaky finishing salt.