Beets are one of my favorite vegetables. Sweet, silky, and earthy. Some may find them a nuisance to handle, but I find peeling them therapeutic. The thin skin pulls away from the flesh slowly, like how dried Elmer’s glue peels from your skin. Then a brilliant pink stains your fingers and the crevices under your nails. I like slicing beets into a bed of fresh greens, sprinkling goat cheese and drizzling vinaigrette on top.
I wanted to showcase them for dinner to my mom's friends. This crowd has known each other since high school, they emigrated from Hong Kong, each married couple settled in Toronto. They had cute babies, who grew up to be play dates (though in my case, they were more like mean boys), together they enjoyed countless dimsum lunches, followed by mahjong marathons. Two decades later, they continue to play their beloved game for hours on end, the click clack shuffle of marble tiles all too familiar to my ears.
My parents asked me to cook dinner for their friends, just as an appreciation to show how much they value their friendship. I agreed, but only because I get to dream up a menu and toy with recipes I've been meaning to try since...oh forever. Cooking relaxes me. In a smooth rhythm, beets are roasted for hours then peeled, fingers blotched a glorious magenta. Brussel sprouts are split in half to expose their intricate foldings. Tangelos are squeezed, releasing fragrant lemony juices. Dozens of pillowy sweet potato gnocchi appear, indented by the tines of a fork. As the sun leaves behind an azure sky, I don’t feel time go by.
The beets went into a salad. I turned to Epicurious, my trusty resource for all things culinary, and surfed through recipes to get a sense of how to construct my dish. I settled on baby spinach, arugula, frisée, oranges, sliced radishes and beets. To merry it all together, I made an orange dressing and baked cheddar and chives scones for the side.
The salad was luscious. The dressing toned down the bitterness of the greens and radishes, the texture was balanced with crisp and tender ingredients. The scones were unfortunately lacking in salt and called for a more pungent cheese, otherwise, it was fluffy and brightly specked with cheddar and chives.
The main course was homemade sweet potato gnocchi with browned butter, roast chicken thighs and dijon mustard sauce, and brussel sprouts. My mom’s friends lapped it all up, leaving only bones and puddles of sauce on their plate.
Mouths were wiped, dishes were cleaned, forks were scrubbed and I took out the dessert. Tangelo semifreddo was something else I had bookmarked into my list of Must Make. I’ve seen this on Epicurious several times and it always intimidates me. It looks too pretty, too delicate, too pristine. But since I had plenty of time to prepare it, I gave it a shot. It was awesome. Whipped cream, egg whites, tangelo juice and sugar were folded together, allowed to freeze in a loaf pan, and finally sliced into pieces garnished with segments and syrup.
My guests purred over it. It tasted like dense marshmallows, more airy than ice cream and the tangelos didn’t make me feel like I was eating a pound of butter. The original recipe calls for almond brittle embedded into the semifreddo, but I skipped it--I didn’t want to bother with the extra work. Even in its absence, the dessert was a hit. I brought it to a potluck a week later, and it was just as lovely. Now I can’t wait to make another kind of semifreddo, something with berries will be perfect for the summer…and that is something I’ve been looking forward to all winter.
Also, I’ve been spending time planning my trip to Europe (enter ecstatic jumping up and down here) with my buddy Milos. I’ve been dreaming of seeing skylines like this, eating too much of these, and taking a dip (or two) here. I’m stoked. Stoked I tell you.
Roasted Beet Salad with Orange Dressing
Adapted from Epicurious
6 medium beets, leaves cut and trimmed
10 cups of leafy salad greens (arugula, rommaine lettuce, mache, red cabbage, whatever your heart desires)
2 large oranges
1 small sweet onion, cut through root end into thin wedges
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
Preheat oven to 400°F. Trim greens from beets. Cut off and discard stems. Coarsely chop leaves and reserve. Wrap each beet in foil. Place beets directly on oven rack and roast until tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Cool. Peel beets, then cut each into 8 wedges. Place beets in medium bowl.
Rinse salad greens thoroughly, add beets. Cut peel and white pith from oranges. Working over another bowl and using small sharp knife, cut between membranes to release segments. Add orange segments and onion to bowl with beet mixture. Whisk vinegar, oil, garlic, and orange peel in small bowl to blend; add to beet mixture and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Serve.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter
2 1-pound red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
1 12-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 3/4 cups (about) all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons chopped fresh sage plus whole leaves for garnish
Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place sweet potatoes on plate; microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and nutmeg; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.
Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. Transfer to baking sheet.
Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to clean rimmed baking sheet. Cool completely. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
Preheat oven to 300°F. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter solids are brown and have toasty aroma, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Add chopped sage (mixture will bubble up). Turn off heat. Season sage butter generously with salt and pepper.
Transfer half of sage butter to large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add half of gnocchi. Sauté until gnocchi are heated through, about 6 minutes. Empty skillet onto rimmed baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining sage butter and gnocchi. Divide gnocchi and sauce among shallow bowls. Garnish with sage leaves.
Adapted from Epicurious
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup fresh tangerine juice or tangelo juice
2 tablespoons finely grated tangerine peel or tangelo peel
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1 cup fresh tangerine juice or tangelo juice
2 tablespoons honey
4 tangerines or 3 tangelos, peeled, separated into segments
Line 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan with 2 layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides. Fill large bowl with ice cubes and water. Whisk egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, tangerine juice, and tangerine peel in medium metal bowl. Set bowl with yolk mixture over saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture thickens and instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 160 degrees F, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from over hot water and set over bowl with ice water. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until thick and cool, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from over ice water.
Beat cream in another large bowl until peaks form; set aside. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into yolk mixture to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions. Fold in whipped cream in 2 additions until just incorporated.
Spread 1/3 of semifreddo mixture (about 3 cups) evenly in loaf pan. Sprinkle 3/4 cup chopped brittle evenly over. Repeat layering with half of remaining semifreddo mixture; sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup brittle over, then spread remaining semifreddo mixture over (loaf pan will be very full and mixture will extend slightly over top of pan). Fold plastic wrap overhang over semifreddo to cover. Freeze overnight. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep frozen.
Bring tangerine juice and honey to boil in heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Boil until mixture is syrupy and reduced to generous 1/3 cup, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl; cool completely. Stir in tangerine segments. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
Invert semifreddo onto platter. Remove plastic wrap. Dip large knife into hot water, wipe dry, then cut semifreddo crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices, dipping knife into water and wiping dry as needed. Place 1 slice on each plate. Spoon tangerine sauce alongside semifreddo and serve.