Beets in Red Wine with Cream

If you’ve planned your Thanksgiving menu and feel like it still needs a jolt of color to combat the brown-brown-brown, here it is: a roasted beet salad with tart dried cherries, radicchio, red wine dressing, and a garnishing pour of cream. With its big flavors and vivid contrasting hues, you’ll want to serve this one on the side, in its own little salad bowl.

I’ve pined over this concoction for years, after having committed to memory a photo of a beet salad with a pour of cream from a nameless, faceless, long-since-lost Scandinavian cookbook. When I set out to recreate it, other old influences demanded to be included—which happens.

I have never been able to shake the memory of an old dish we made on the fish line at Danube: beet juice and red wine were combined and reduced together to an inky deep red liquid which was used to coat fine strings of fresh square-off chittara. A coil of the red-stained pasta shared the plate with a puddle of melting horseradish cream, butter-glazed lobster tails and claws, and spots of shaved black truffles. Of course I don’t cook with the high luxe stuff in my own kitchen, but the notion that tart, reduced red wine can temper the natural sweetness of beets still hangs out in my head.

The red-and-white tiger striping on the radicchio makes visual sense, but it isn’t just there for our aesthetic pleasure. Every third bite, the bitterness is a welcome scene-stealer, toppling the goody-good, perfect sweet-and-sour.

It goes without saying that digging into this salad, forking around its center, rewards you with a riotous, blooming pinkness. In a way, it seems kind of like the way an adolescent might mood-shift, minute by minute, from sweet, to sour, to shocking.

Beet salad with Radicchio, Sour Cherries, and Cream

Serves 6 to 8

2 pounds beets

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup water

2-3 sprigs thyme

1/3 cup dried sour cherries

1 cup dry red wine

2 Tablespooons lemon juice

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

4 ounces radicchio (1 small head), ripped into bite-sized pieces

1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the beets, throw them in a 9 x 13 baking pan, and season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and thyme. Pour 1 cup water into the bottom of the pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake until the beets are tender when poked with a thin fork. Depending on the size of the beets (and their age) this will take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.

Uncover. When the beets are cool enough to touch, rub off the skins (holding them in a paper towel works well here) and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Combine the dried cherries and red wine in a small pan, and simmer gently over medium heat until the wine clings in a thin syrup to the cherries. Let it cool slightly, then add the lemon juice, olive oil and sugar to the cherries. Taste for balance, and season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss the radicchio with a bit of the dressing to coat. Add the rest, including cherries, to the beets and toss to combine. To serve, divide the beet salad mixture among the plates (6 to 8). Pour a little cream into the center of each and serve immediately.

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