Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kitchen Klutz: 'The Iron Klutz' Part Deux!

Photos by Ted Levin

By Michèle De Meglio

I’m cooking with a potential Iron Chef — and she’s going to make me eat beets! Ah!

In all of my 20-something years I’ve never tasted a beet. C’mon, aren’t they just one step away from Brussels sprouts on the icky veggie ladder?

Standing in the cozy kitchen of The Harrison,
a Tribeca restaurant lucky enough to have “The Next Iron Chef” star Amanda Freitag as its executive chef, I tried to tame my nerves when Freitag told me I’d be making and eating bloody beets. By bloody, I mean they’ll stain your hands scarlet. Eww.

“This being your first beet experience, it’s going to be very interesting,” the culinary whiz laughed.

She assured me that many a beet-hater, like myself, tasted her famous beet salad and loved it.

“I have a lot of people who only eat roasted beets and they hate them but I’ve converted them to beets with this salad. I may be spoiling you. You may eat them and never want to have beets any other way,” Freitag told me.

And the dish is topped with pistachios, which I love, so maybe I won’t break out in hives after a single beet bite. Fingers crossed!

Freitag began her beet tutorial by chopping off a large beet’s “gnarly bits” (that’s what I would call them, too!) and then peeling it. This is where the blood stained the chopping board — and our hands.

With bright red palms, Freitag assembled two mandolin slicers — a giant, industrial-grade one and another imprinted with “watch your fingers.” Oh, this is going to be fun.

Freitag easily grated the beet over the larger mandolin. When it was my turn, the sucker didn’t move! It was like slamming my fist into a brick wall and expecting the structure to crumble. I’m strong but I’m not Supergirl!

I was confident that I could successfully perform the next step of spreading mascarpone cheese on a plate. However, I quickly learned that my confidence was unjustified because I couldn’t flick the creamy cheese off the spoon! Applying more force, the cheese sailed through the air and landed on the pristine stainless steel countertop lining The Harrison’s kitchen. O

Amused by my culinary ineptness, Freitag grabbed a spoon and attempted to mold my cheesy mess into a circle. “We’ll leave yours a little rustic,” she joked.

From there we combined the julienned beets in a mixing bowl with pistachio chips and watercress. With a pinch of salt and a drizzle of Freitag’s homemade vinaigrette, we formed the ingredients into a ball and placed them on top of the cheese. That I didn’t screw up.  

Who knew beets could be so good? Not this broccoli lover. Freitag’s recipe is clever, inventive and, above all, tasty!
The creaminess of the rich cheese is a perfect compliment to the crispy, crunchy beets. With the vinaigrette, pistachios and watercress, the salad is a wonderfully refreshing dish that could transform any beet avoider into a beet devotee.

But Brussels sprouts are still gross.

Next week, prepare for the final entry in “The Iron Klutz” trilogy as I tango with Seamus Mullen, executive chef of Boqueria! 

“The Next Iron Chef” airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.

Kitchen Klutz follows 20-something Michèle De Meglio as she burns casseroles and her fingers, all in hope of trading frozen dinners for home cooking.

Beet Salad with Crushed Pistachios and Robiolina
(Courtesy Amanda Freitag)


Beet Vinaigrette:
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 small beet, peeled and cut large dice
3 shallots, sliced
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 cups julienned beets
1 cup Robiolina cheese
1 bunch watercress
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped


For Beet Vinaigrette:
Bring vinegar, sugar, beet and shallots to a boil and simmer until the sugar melts (about 1 minute). Remove from the heat and add olive oil, season with salt and cracked pepper.

For Salad:
Toss beets with the vinaigrette along with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit while you prepare the plates. Spread a circle of cheese onto the center of each plate with the back of a spoon. Add watercress and pistachios to the beets and place on top of the circle of cheese. Once each salad is plated, finish by drizzling vinaigrette around the perimeter of the plate and sprinkle each salad with toasted pistachios. Serves four.


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