This salad came about in a spurt of creativity—two, actually. I was wooed by the beets, which were on sale (because spring) and they rested a few rows down from the asparagus, which were also on sale and perfectly in season. At that moment, I no longer needed a good excuse to buy beets because a salad was forming in my brain. When it comes to putting food together, I credit the way my brain works to this book, which I always pick up again when I’m feeling lost and unmotivated in the kitchen.
Sunday arrived and the beets were still waiting to be washed and prepped, and thanks to an invitation made by my husband, we had impromptu company for lunch. I love impromptu company (as long as my house is somewhat in order), because the pressure is off for delivering a meal to the table at a set time.
Knowing we were all hungry, I set out a board with some things from the fridge and cupboard (cheese, dried dates, nuts, crackers, cornichons) and then I set to work on the main course.
The Tuscan Sausage Potato Soup came together quickly and since we were still waiting for one guest to arrive, I eagerly retrieved the beets and asparagus from the fridge and got to work.
I feel like I get a bonus when I buy beets. With their long stems and leafy tops, it is basically three separate ingredients! The vibrant colors of beets make for instant wow-factor on the table, although you might choose to wear gloves while prepping them, otherwise your red-stained hands look pretty guilty of a dubious deed.
I had a lemon in my fruit bowl, because you should always have a lemon on hand, and a lime too, if you can swing it. I buy them without knowing what they’ll be used for, but sure enough, they always reveal their purpose. Citrus is perfectly wonderful for everything—both their juice and their zest. In mixed drinks, yogurt, salad dressings, whipped cream, and of course pesto.
Pesto was the destiny of those cheeky little beet-tops that want to fool you into thinking they are just too obnoxious and bitter to be good for much of anything, but don’t be fooled. You can roughly chop them and sauté them in a warm pan of olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. They are lovely as a side dish on their own, or you can pile them next to scrambled eggs on a toasted piece of crusty bread for breakfast or lunch if you’d like.
In the case of this pesto, I reached for the walnuts but when I saw the vivid green of spring echoed in the pistachios, I knew immediately it was meant to be. The mixture spun and whirred, transforming into a harmonious bowl of flavor. Those beet greens kicked back a little, but I’d be darned if they wouldn’t cooperate in my little spring vegetable symphony. That is when it dawned on me: a little ruby red, puckery sweet raspberry flavor (just a hint) would put those greens in their rightful place in my pesto. Red fruits always do taste best with red vegetables anyway, you know.
Just like that, the perfect tribute to spring came together, each component perfectly cooked in it’s delicate and needy little way. It’s hard to mind though, when it all ends up tasting as though the vegetables are thanking you for noticing them, and the guests lose all sense of time passing because they are wholly nourished; both their stomach and their senses enriched.
Beet + Asparagus Salad with Pistachio Lemon Beet-Top Pesto
- 3 red beets with stems and leaves
- 3 golden beets
- 1 (1 lb) bunch asparagus
- 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- 1/4 cup salted, roasted pistachios
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 lemon (zest and juice will be used)
- 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp good quality raspberry jam*
Preheat oven to 400º F.
Separate red beetroots from their stems by cutting at the base of the stems, and taking off the top 1/8 inch of the beetroot. Cut the stems free from the root top. Discard the misshapen connecting bit. Now cut the stems at the top, just where they begin to run into the leaves. Chop stems into 1 inch pieces. Rinse well under cold water.
Roughly chop the red beet greens and rinse well under cold water. Set aside for pesto.
Return to the red beet roots and chop off the small root end that may be sticking out, and then use a vegetable peeler or small knife to trim away any rough areas on the skin. No need to peel the entire beet, just trim away any parts that feel hairy (from small roots) or calloused. Wash each beet well under cold water. Dice the beets into 1/2 cubes.
Prepare golden beetroots (peel and wash) and dice into 1/2 inch cubes also. Golden beet stems and leaves will not be used in this recipe. Feel free to discard or save for a later use.
Snap the white ends off the asparagus. They tend to naturally snap off (like you are breaking a twig with your thumb and your pointer finger) at the point where they are tender. Discard the woody ends. Chop asparagus into 1 inch pieces (same size as the beet stems) and rinse well under cold water.
Toss asparagus, beet stems, red beets and golden beets SEPARATELY in a bowl. Each grouping should be tossed with 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Pile each vegetable neatly on a baking sheet, making sure the asparagus and beet stems are next to each other for easiest removal. Roast for 15 minutes, tossing gently with tongs halfway through the cook time.
Remove the asparagus and beet stems to a serving bowl.
Continue cooking red and golden diced beets for an additional 15 minutes. Check them once to stir and pour off excess liquid. After 15 minutes they should be easily pierced with the tip of a knife, not too soft, but not crunchy either. Taste one and check for doneness if you are on the fence.
Add beets to serving bowl.
In a food processor add 2 packed cups of chopped beet greens (2 oz), 1/4 cup pistachios, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, the zest of a lemon, 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons raspberry jam.
Pulse until smooth, stopping to scrape down the food processor once or twice to ensure a consistent, finished pesto. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.
Pour 1/2 the pesto on the salad and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. You can also add more pesto if you'd like.
Salad can be served room temperature or cold.
*I use Trader Joe's Organic Raspberry Fruit Spread. It has a bright, pure raspberry flavor, and is sweetened only with fruit juice. Most importantly, raspberries are the first ingredient.
Leftover pesto can be used for pasta, crostini, or another salad. Get creative!