I am always looking for little appetizers to complement a glass of wine or champagne, sometimes even a cocktail or a simple glass of whiskey, neat. The beet and goat cheese towers here fit all the bills. First, they are temptingly gorgeous. More importantly, they’re scrumptious, and the red and white complemented with green is cheerful for short winter days. An added attribute is they will get people who think they don’t like beets to start loving them!
In France, we can buy beets that are already cooked. They look a bit odd at the market as they lean into each other, frumpily slouching instead of being all nice and round. But please, cook your own! I usually do, because they’re more flavorful, particularly when they are roasted. True, it takes time but oh! The results.
Goat Cheese Season
Traditionally goats have their kids around about February, and from March through December they are giving milk. That’s the busy season for cheese makers, who turn the milk into both fresh cheeses and those intended to age, and those are the ideal months in France to savor goat cheese. That said, tradition is often flouted now with the use of artificial light and insemination, so that goats give milk year-round, resulting in a year-round supply of fresh cheese.
What is Fresh Goat Cheese?
So, what is fresh goat cheese? It’s small cheeses that are about one week old, and are tender and moist without being wet. Many of you will find these locally. If you cannot, use drained Greek yogurt instead – it lacks the tang of goat cheese but has its own charms which work well here.
And when you cut your little towers into shapes, use your imagination! Rounds, squares, triangles, heart shapes (think Valentine’s day!).
SWEET BEET AND GOAT CHEESE TOWERS
- Special Equipment: mousse or pastry rings, generally about 3-inches (7.5cm) in diameter by 2-inches (5cm) in height. If you don’t have these, make this and just enjoy the free-form shape! A mandolin is very handy for this recipe, too.
- For the beets:
- 3 large;1-3/4 pounds;875g beets, washed, not peeled
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the goat cheese:
- 7 ounces;210g fresh, moist goat cheese
- ¼ to ½ cup;60-125ml heavy cream*
- 2 small shallots minced
- 1 clove garlic green germ removed, minced
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the vinaigrette:
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Pinch fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
- 1 small shallot sliced paper thin
- 1 teaspoon mild honey such as lavender
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
- ¼ cup;60ml 60ml extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the salad:
- 3 cups small arugula watercress, or flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Fleur de sel – optional garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400 F (200C).
- Place the beets in a large, heavy baking pan. Add ½ cup (125ml) water, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and bake until the beets are tender, about 1-1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and let cool thoroughly.
- While the beets are cooking, mix the goat cheese with the shallot and the garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Make the vinaigrette: Place the lemon juice and salt in a small bowl. Add the mustard and the shallot and whisk together until combined. Whisk in the honey. Mince the tarragon, then add it to the mixture, and finally whisk in the olive oil. Season generously with pepper.
- When the beets are cool, peel and trim them, then slice them very thin – about 1/8th inch thick, using a mandolin if possible so the slices are uniform. Evenly divide the goat cheese among 30 of the beet slices, spreading it as evenly as you can, and as close to the edges as you can. Stack the slices, pressing on them gently as you stack so they stick together, until you have six stacks of equal height. Using a mousse ring that is about 23 inches (7.5cm) in diameter, cut out even rounds from the stacks. Save the trimmings to feed the staff (!).
- To serve, using an offset or other spatula, transfer the beet towers to the center of six salad plates. Place the greens in a small bowl and dress with half the vinaigrette, tossing thoroughly. Divide the greens among the plates, carefully placing them around the towers. Drizzle each tower with the remaining vinaigrette, garnish with fleur de sel and serve.