Saturday, March 12, 2011

Beautiful Beets with Pistachio Butter

Ah, the humble beetroot! For me, beetroot was a childhood staple, although in my youthful experience it came from a tin and, when not forgotten at the back of the fridge, lolling about in a purple pickle bath in an old Tupperware container, it appeared almost exclusively on hamburgers, or bleeding into the grated carrot on a salad sandwich. Whilst beetroot existed in my diet, I didn’t exactly love it.

However, my relationship with beetroot changed considerably for the better a few years ago when I thought to roast a few baby beets and toss them through a salad – only to discover that beetroots didn’t naturally taste of vinegar but were a joy in their clean, satisfying earthiness. One of our favourite winter salads features, among other things, roasted beets, toasted walnuts, green beans and orange segments with a scattering of creamy goats chevre – a total delight, but one which is for another post at another time.

Today, I want to tell you about the dish that had me obsessing and salivating for over two years. This jewel-toned beauty has its origins, for us at least, in New York City, in the cosy, downscale member of the Mario Batali empire,
Lupa, in Greenwich Village. On the recommendation of my husband’s cousin who lives in NYC, Mr W&W and I had an amazing lunch at Lupa on our honeymoon almost three years ago and, whilst it’s not the fanciest place out there, the atmosphere, warmth, value for money and downright dreamy food has led to Lupa being one of the few restaurants by which we measure all others.

I remember it as if it was yesterday. We started our Lupa experience with an antipasti plate featuring a plethora of sensory delights – braised artichokes, octopus, asparagus with lemon and parmesan, plump, juicy olives, and magnificent house cured salumi. Also featured was a humble little portion of beets, served with a luscious, velvety pistachio butter - a triumph in simplicity and a match made in heaven.

I thought about those beets for months and months after my return, but couldn’t replicate them. Something was missing – it wasn’t just a case of roasted beetroot tossed in ground pistachios, there was something else - a missing link, but I couldn’t place it. No amount of googling could shed light on the puzzle and in the end I shelved it, distracted by other things. Until one day late last year, that is, when I spied the latest Mario Batali cookbook on the shelves at Dymocks. Flicking through the pages of
Molto Gusto, I couldn't believe my luck when it jumped out of the pages at me in black and white (and green and purple!): the recipe for those glorious Beets with Pistachios.

Beets with Pistachio Butter
(Serves 4 as a side dish)

Look, I will concede that the pale green pistachio butter makes this not the most attractive thing to photograph, but you have to believe me when I say that this is a thing of beauty to eat! What follows is very much Mario Batali’s recipe, adapted by me only slightly as to quantities of ingredients to suit our preference. We tend to have it as an accompaniment to grilled meats, but it is marketed in Molto Gusto as antipasti.

Before you launch into this recipe, be aware that, whilst the salad itself is fairly quick to assemble, the beets take a little while to cook and will need time to cool.

What you need:

8 medium beetroot, trimmed of greens and scrubbed*
Olive oil spray
½ cup unsalted pistachio kernels
¼ cup warm water
2 tbs pistachio oil*
¼ cup Red Wine Vinaigrette (recipe below)
2 tbs chopped pistachio kernels, extra
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Red Wine Vinaigrette - Whisk together in a small bowl ¼ cup red wine vinegar, ¼ cup soda water or sparkling mineral water and ½ cup extra virgin olive oil. This will make 1 cup of vinaigrette, which is more than you need for the beets, but you can keep the extra in a container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

What to do:

Preheat oven to 200°C. Pick a baking dish which will comfortably hold the beets and line it with foil (this helps when you come to wash up!). Toss the beets in the lined tray, spray with a little oil spray and give a sprinkling with salt. Roast the beetroot in the oven until tender. This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to about 1 hour and 20 minutes depending on the size of the beets - you might even do this the day before. I test for tenderness with a fine skewer. Allow the beets to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse the pistachio kernels to a fine grinding and add half the water. Pulse to combine, and add the pistachio oil. You want the pistachio mix to be a little runnier than peanut butter - so if your paste is still firm, add the remaining warm water as required.

Peel the beets. You might have success rubbing the skins off with kitchen towel, but I find I usually have to peel them with a paring knife. If using purple beetroot, it can be a good idea to wear gloves to do this, or else you will end up with purple hands! Cut the beets into chunks about 3cm in size and place them in a serving bowl. If you are using golden beets as well as the red ones (as I have in the photo), try and place them carefully so you preserve as much colour as possible - the red beets will bleed into the golden ones otherwise. At least 10 mins before you are serving, gently toss the beetroot in the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, I like to spoon the pistachio butter over the beets so that everyone can dig in and fight for the good bits.

If you wanted to make this look a little prettier than mine, though, you might serve the beetroot and vinaigrette on a platter, sprinkle the chopped pistachios over and serve the butter spooned alongside. It's up to you. As for me, well I'm happy any way this comes and have even been known to hold some back when serving it to dinner guests so that I can package it up to take to work for my lunch!

* * *


About the Beets: As you can see, I have used a combination of traditional red beetroot and golden beetroot for this dish. This is purely optional, you can use either. I like to include golden beets if I can find them simply because I love the colourful combination of the ruby red, glorious pistachio green and the golden beets. Just plain red beetroot works perfectly well.

About the Pistachio Oil: this is available at good delis. It's not cheap, but you don't use very much of it so you will have it for some time. You could, perhaps, use a light olive oil as a substitute, but your pistachio butter will lack a bit of the added flavour you would otherwise have with pistachio oil.


  1. Love beetroots and the ruby red colour and fleshy texture too.

  2. Really good beetroots are fantastic. White I was in NZ I had the misfortune to order a beetroot tart. It was at a classy restaurant so I assumed they would be freshly cooked and tasting of earthy goodness. So wrong. The tart contained sliced tinned beetroot that tasted so powerfully of vinegar it was almost rendered inedible. However - this looks like an amazing dish. I'm going to have to give it a go!

  3. BR: thanks for stopping by!

    Kitty: Oh no, so wrong! This reminds me of your similarly disappointing time at Bobby Flay's restaurant, with the tinned something or other. Pineapple? Try this recipe though. It's what I was thinking about the whole time I was urging you to get yourself to Lupa on your last NYC trip!

  4. hello! new to your blog and happy to find another Australian food blogger. well, i'm not Australian but i do live in Melbourne :)

    this recipe looks delicious. love the combination of beets and pistachios. i'll definitely be stopping by more often.

  5. What a wonderful story of how you came to find the recipe for this dish Amy! Pistachio butter sounds like a delicious addition to beetroot :D

  6. the beets look gr8! and that pistacio butter sounds divine

  7. I love beetroot. You just know you are getting all your vitamins when you eat one :) Love the pistachio butter and love your blog!

  8. beets and pistachio what a yummy combo :)

  9. Cool tips thanks for sharing with us.