Big beets are a powerhouse vegetable, high in fiber, rich in flavor, and almost meaty, especially after long baking, which softens and caramelizes them without stealing their crimson juices. I often make these big beets the centerpiece of a meal. In this roasted beets recipe, tangy watercress (or arugula, if you prefer) and a tart, creamy dressing balance the beets’ sweetness. You could make this dish with smaller beets, but the big ones are so impressive. The crème fraîche in the dressing is available at gourmet and specialty markets, but you can make your own by adding 2 tablespoons of cultured buttermilk to a cup of heavy cream and letting it sit for 12 hours at room temperature. New England Cheesemaking Supply sells crème fraîche starter. You can substitute regular sour cream, but the sauce’s flavor and texture won’t be quite the same.
• 2 to 3 large beets, at least 1 pound each
• 2 cups watercress, loosely packed (about 1 bunch)
• 1 cup crème fraîche, strained through cheesecloth if a bit runny
• 1 lime
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Scrub the beets, but don’t peel them. Wrap them individually in aluminum foil, then place them inside a covered casserole dish and bake for 3 hours.
2. While the beets bake, wash the watercress thoroughly and trim off any tough stems. Zest the lime by grating the green part of the skin with a zester, a grater or a fine Microplane. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice into a small bowl. Add the crème fraîche and half the zest.
3. When the beets are done, let them cool enough to handle. Remove the foil and slip the skins off with your fingers. Slice beets crosswise evenly, into half-inch-thick disks, and arrange on a platter. Tuck the watercress around the beet slices. Sprinkle the remaining lime zest over the sauce, and serve the sauce in a small, shallow dish alongside.
Want to learn more about cooking with winter vegetables? Read Winter’s Jewels: How to Grow and Cook Beets and Carrots for tips from Barbara Damrosch on growing and preparing more dishes.
Esteemed garden writer Barbara Damrosch farms and writes with her husband, Eliot Coleman, at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. She is the author of The Garden Primer and, with Coleman, of The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.