Chioggia Beet and Fennel Salad – quick and easy, with julienned raw beets.
By Kathy Bechtel
One of the wonderful vegetables I can find available both here in New England and in Italy are beets. I enjoy both the greens and the roots, and am excited to see several varieties now appearing at the local markets here in the US. One of my favorites are the beautiful multicolored Chioggia beets, sometimes referred to as ‘candy-stripe’. This heirloom beet comes from the Italian coastal town of Chioggia, right outside of Venice. In fact, this town is often referred to as “Little Venice”, and is a great destination on its own, one we visit on our bike tours in the region.
This beet varietal was probably brought to the US in the 1800s by Italian immigrants. Chioggia, a fishing village right on the Adriatic, doesn’t quite strike me as the place where beets would come from. It ends up that all beets – and this includes members of the beet family grown for their leaves, such as swiss chard, as well as those grown for their tubers – are descendants of the sea beet. The sea beet is native to the coasts of Europe, northern Africa and southern Asia. It requires moist, well-drained soils, and does not like shade. It is able to tolerate relatively high levels of sodium in its environment because its leaves are waxy, hence its ability to thrive in coastal areas. So seaside regions provide the perfect environment for these vegetables.
I’d heard that raw beets make a wonderful salad, but had never tried one. My first attempt at this recipe occurred during a summer heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 100°, so any recipe that did not involve heat was immediately attractive. But it is a great way to prepare beets any time of year, quick and easy. My friends Jody Adams and Ken Rivard on their food blog The Garum Factory did a wonderful chioggia beet salad with fennel, zucchini, blue cheese and walnuts. Jody states that she pickled the beets because raw beets are too earthy for her taste. Reading up on the chioggia beets, they supposedly have a higher content of geosmin than other beets, a compound that causes the ‘earthy’ flavor. But after trying them, I have to say I didn’t find them too earthy at all. It remains unclear as to whether the geosmin is produced by the beet, or a result of its growing environment, so I’d suggest just tasting before deciding – if it is too earthy for you, there are lots of alternatives, pickling, roasting, boiling.
Chioggia beets have a beautiful pink-fuschia-red color, and when sliced open display very attractive concentric rings of pink and white. Unfortunately, this ring pattern fades when they are cooked, but using them raw makes for a very pleasing dish. Many recipes for raw beets recommend grating in a food processor, but I went to a little extra effort and julienned them. With a mandolin or slicer, this is pretty quick, and really makes a nice presentation. But if you a pressed for time, the food processor will work just fine.Print
Some fennel, a nice local goat cheese, walnuts, and a citrus dressing, and a great, quick, healthy lunch.
Kathy Bechtel’s obsession with food and cooking began as a teenager. After years following a traditional career path as a telecommunications engineer, she left to attend culinary school and wine training, and is now combining her passions for food and wine, the outdoors, and travel as owner and Culinary Tour Director of Italiaoutdoors. In this role, Kathy leads small bicycle, skiing and walking tours that explore the authentic regional cuisines, local products and undiscovered wines of Northeastern Italy.