We celebrated Valentine’s day early this year. Actually, we celebrate most holidays early around here… at least food-wise. Christmas cookies in October, Thanksgiving food in late August and so on.
I’m not sure what we’re doing for “real” Valentine’s yet – but once I got this recipe just right and the pictures were done, Jack and I sat down to a romantic (albeit reheated) meal for two. The only caveat – Jack doesn’t like beets. He’s not a picky eater but beets are on his short list of foods he usually won’t touch. I originally tried this recipe with other roasted vegetables but the juicy sweetness of the beets went SO well with the creamy earthy flavor of the polenta. The little heart-like-shaped red beets combined with the pink and white striped Chioggia beets just needed to be here. Also, since I love beets and you love beets (right?), he was outnumbered this time.
Our dinner conversation went like this:
Me: “So I know you don’t prefer beets, but don’t you think they work really well in this case – just a few of them – with the other vegetables and creamy polenta and this lemony dijon dressing kind of covers them up right? I mean, I know how much you love mustard.
Him: “They’re still beets.”
Me: “Remember that one time when I made beets and told you they were turnips and you ate them and you liked them?”
Him: “Yes, but this time I know they are beets and I can’t un-think that”
Me: “But if you didn’t watch me make this and you closed your eyes and ate this, you would probably be ok with this whole combination right? You would probably not even notice the beets.
Him: (as he’s licking his plate clean, btw.) “Ok… of all the way that I’ve had beets, this makes them taste the least beet-y. Plus this polenta is [flipping] awesome.”
So I’ll leave it up to you whether you love or hate beets but let’s talk about the polenta. It’s creamy, made with my go-to unsweetened Almond Breeze instead of plain water or cream. It has olive oil instead of butter so aside from the tiny bit of optional feta sprinkled on top, this meal is dairy free and vegan (but you wouldn’t know it).
This recipe is not difficult to make but I will say that it’s a tad on the fussy side, since each component needs to be prepared separately. If you’re good at multitasking, you’ve got this. If not, you can roast the beets ahead of time, make the dressing ahead of time, and (new discovery!) you can even make the polenta ahead of time.
That new discovery was a happy accident but it worked. I made the polenta and when it was almost done (not quite thickened), I let it cool, and put it in the fridge. I took it out the next day, heated it on the stove while whisking in a bit of water, and voila! The polenta was creamier in texture and had more mellow flavor than a “fresh” version I tested earlier.
The rest of the dish is comprised of roasted red onions and chickpeas, sautéed spinach, and thinly sliced, lightly marinated Chioggia beets… I love the contrasting flavor, texture (and color) of the raw and roasted beets together.
This recipe serves 2, but can be easily doubled to serve 4.
Creamy Polenta with Roasted Beets
- 6 to 8 small red beets
- ½ Chioggia beet, sliced into 8 paper-thin slices
- ½ small red onion, sliced into wedges
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 4 cups fresh spinach
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese, optional
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wrap the whole red beets in a sheet of aluminum foil with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place on the baking sheet and roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until soft and fork-tender. The timing will depend on the size and freshness of the beets. Set the sliced Chioggia beet aside as it will be served raw.
- Make the polenta: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the almond milk, water and a ½ teaspoon salt to a gentle boil. Add the polenta and whisk to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes. Be careful that the mixture does not start to bubble. This will scorch the polenta and leave a bitter taste. Continue stirring for about 45 minutes or until the polenta has thickened but is still soft and creamy. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and more salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Meanwhile, line another baking sheet with parchment paper and toss the onion wedges and chickpeas with a drizzle of olive oil and generous pinches of salt pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chickpeas are crisp and the onions are soft.
- Make the Lemon Dijon Dressing: In a small shallow bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Place the raw Chioggia beet slices in the dressing and let them marinate until you’re ready to plate.
- Remove the roasted red beets from the oven, unwrap the foil, and set aside to cool. When they are cool to the touch, peel the skins. I like to hold them under running water and slide the skins off with my hands. Slice the beets in half, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and set aside.
- In a medium skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper and toss. When the spinach starts to wilt, reduce the heat and add the garlic and a squeeze of lemon. Toss and remove from heat.
- Assemble plates with a scoop of polenta, the sautéed spinach, roasted onions, roasted chickpeas, roasted beets, raw beets and feta cheese, if using. Drizzle the remaining Lemon Dijon dressing over the vegetables. Finish with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt, if desired.
Optional: To make the polenta in advance, follow the directions as written but stop stirring after about 30 minutes (before the polenta is thickened). Let cool, then chill until read to cook. When ready to cook, add ¼ cup water and heat the polenta on the stove, whisking vigorously until it becomes creamy again. Add more water if needed. Add the olive oil and season to taste.