Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

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The wild beet, the ancestor of the beet with which we are familiar today, is thought to have originated in prehistoric times in North Africa and grew wild along Asian and European seashores. In earlier times, people ate the beet greens and not the roots. The ancient Romans were one of the first civilizations to cultivate beets and to use the roots as food. The tribes that invaded Rome were responsible for spreading beets throughout northern Europe, where they were first used for animal fodder and later for human consumption.

The medicinal properties of the root were more important than its eating qualities and it was used to treat a range of ailments including fevers, constipation, wounds and various skin problems. At that time, the roots were long and thin like a carrot. The rounded root shape, that we are familiar with today, was not developed until the sixteenth century and became widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe 200 years later. Many classic beetroot dishes originated in this region, including the famous beetroot soup known as borscht.

The value of the beet grew in the 19th. century, when it was discovered that they were a concentrated source of sugar. When access to sugar cane was difficult to get, beets became the primary source of sugar. Around the same time, beets were also brought to the United States, where they flourished. Today, the leading commercial producers of beets include the United States, Russia, France, Poland, France and Germany.

You don’t hear much about beets, though. People rarely serve them. As a matter of fact, in the world of vegetables, beets are seldom even mentioned. Hopefully, after reading this post, you will be more inclined to try this vegetable.

Beets are low in calories but have a high sugar content when compared with all other vegetables. Beets also serve as a natural coloring agent in cooking. Try using pureed beets in a Red Velvet Cake recipe, instead of red dye. Beets are most often used in salads and soups or pickled.

Health Benefits

Beets, also known as beetroot, are high in potassium, folate and fiber. Their edible leaves offer protein, calcium, beta carotene, vitamins A, C and some B vitamins. They are also a rich source of carotenoids and lutein/zeaxanthin and they contain magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus. Beets are a source of beneficial flavonoids called anthycyanins. The beetroot fibers help in reducing cholesterol and triglycerides by increasing the level of HDL. Consumption of beets also helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Types of Beets

Red Beets

Red beets are the beets most of us think of when our minds turn to “beets.” Look for beets with their fresh, leafy greens still attached, if possible – then you’ll know they are fresh. The great thing about red beets, however, is that they are great storage vegetables. Getting a bit less tender as they are stored, perhaps, but also gaining sweetness along the way.

Golden Beets

Golden beets are a bit less sweet than red beets, but also have a more mellow, less earthy flavor all around. If nothing else, golden beets add a bright, zesty yellow color when served roasted or in salads.

Chioggia Beets (Striped Beets)

Chioggia beets are naturally striped – some are a subtle yellow-and-orange combination, while others come with a brilliant red-and-cream candy cane effect. Use them as you would other beets and know that the striping often fades when cooked.

Baby Beets

Any beet can be sold as a “baby beet.” They are simply the beets that are pulled to thin the field and make room for other beets to grow. Smart farmers sell these small specimens as a specialty item. They are very tender and tend to have beautiful, fresh greens.

White Beets

White beets lack the earthy, strong beet flavor that colored beets embody. They also lack the red and yellow pigments that colored varieties possess. What Baby White beets do have is a high level of sweetness. The beets are comprised of a round tapered white root with pale green shoulders, crunchy midribs and wavy broad green leaves. 

How to Cook Beets:

To roast beets (the most flavorful method): Trim the greens off the beets to within 1 inch and scrub the beets. (Reserve the greens for another use, such as the Sauteed Beet Greens recipe below.) Arrange the beets in a small roasting pan, add 1/8 inch water, and cover loosely with foil. Roast at 450 degrees F. for 30 to 45 minutes, until they are tender when pierced with a knife.

To boil beets: Place in a saucepan with 2 inches of cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes for baby beets to 1 hour for large ones.

To microwave beets: Place in a microwave-safe dish with 1/4 cup of water; cover. Microwave on high 10 to 15 minutes until tender.

 When cool enough to handle, peel the beets: Cut off the stem and root ends and scrape the thin layer of skin off with a knife. I wear latex gloves and put a piece of parchment on the cutting board to reduce staining.

The Italian Beet

The Chioggia beet is an Italian heirloom variety established circa 1840. It was named for the town in which it was first cultivated, the island fishing village of Chioggia, near the Lagoon of Venice. Chioggia beets grow best in a cool climate, though they can tolerate some heat. They should be well weeded though, as beets that fight weeds for growing space, can become woody and stringy.

The Chioggia beet can be roasted, steamed or braised. Roasting the beet will bring out the most flavor. Chioggia beets can be served raw, cold or hot. They are a great salad beet, whether served alongside greens or as the main ingredient. Chioggia beets pair well with other beets, bacon, apples, butter, cheeses such as, goat, gorgonzola or aged pecorino-romano, cucumbers, creme fraiche, hard-coked eggs, fennel, mustard, oranges, parsley, smoked fish, shallots and vinegars, especially balsamic, sherry and red wine. Chioggia beets can also be preserved by pickling them.


Chioggia Beet Salad with Ricotta Salata and Hazelnuts

When sliced crosswise, Chioggia beets have a stunning red-and-white bull’s-eye pattern. Compared with common red beets, Chioggia beets don’t bleed much color, so they’re ideal for mixing in salads. Choose small beets if you’re planning to eat them raw–they’re more tender.

Use a mandoline, if you have one, to slice the beets super thin.

Serves 6 to 8


  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup hazelnut or olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 small uncooked Chioggia beets, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup crumbled ricotta salata cheese
  • 1/4 cup torn mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts

Whisk together lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add beets and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with remaining ingredients.

Beet Leaves – Italian Style

This is a good side for grilled flank steak.

Wash 1 bunch of beet leaves very well. Do not use any discolored leaves which can appear yellow. You want the deep green leaves. You can keep the stems too.

Chop the leaves and stems and set aside.

Crush 2 cloves of garlic and saute the garlic in 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, for about 3 minutes over medium heat, in a pan that will be large enough to hold the leaves. Do not let the garlic burn, this will ruin the whole dish.

Next add the beet leaves along with 1/4 cup water. The water will help create steam for cooking the greens.

Lower the heat to low. Cover the pan and cook until the leaves are wilted and soft, stirring frequently. Add additional water as needed to prevent leaves from sticking to pan.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

This dish can be served as a side dish with Italian-style breaded chicken breasts.


Roasted Beets with Garlic–Potato Spread

Serves 4 – 6


  • 4 medium red beets (about 1 1/2 lbs.) trimmed and cleaned
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1⁄4 cup finely ground toasted walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed and minced into a paste
  • 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″squares and boiled until tender


Heat oven to 425°F. Put beets in an 8″ x 8″baking dish and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper and pour in 1 cup water. Cover pan tightly with foil and crimp edges to form a seal. Bake beets until a knife inserted into beet slides easily into the center, about 1 hour. Transfer pan to a rack, carefully uncover, and let cool for 30 minutes. Peel beets and cut into 1″–2″pieces; set aside.

Put walnuts, vinegar, garlic and potatoes into a medium bowl and mash until the potatoes are smooth. Vigorously stir in remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer beets to plates and serve with some of the potato spread on the side.


Italian Roasted Beets and Asparagus

Serve with baked salmon fillets (if desired) seasoned with Italian herbs (instructions below).

4 servings


  • Kosher salt
  • 5 large red beets
  • 12 spears jumbo asparagus
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for shaving
  • 1 lb. salmon fillets, if using
  • Chopped Italian herbs (basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme), if using


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Sprinkle kosher salt on a cookie sheet large enough to hold the beets and place the unpeeled beets on the salt. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, cut off the woody bottom inch of the asparagus and set aside.

When the 45 minutes have passed, open the oven door and carefully lay the asparagus around the beets on top of the salt. Return to oven and cook 15 minutes more. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and remove the asparagus to a platter. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of the salt from the cookie sheet.

If baking salmon to go with this dish, do not turn off the oven. Place the salmon in an oiled baking dish, top with chopped fresh herbs, and place the dish in the oven for about 15 minutes while you prepare the beets.

Allow the beets to cool 5 minutes and then peel them. Cut the peeled beets into 1/4-inch dice and place in a kitchen bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.

Arrange the beets over the asparagus and shave Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the vegetables. Place the salmon on top if using.


Roasted Beet Risotto


  • 3 medium beets (1 1/2 lbs. with greens), trimmed, leaving 1 inch of stems attached
  • 6 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth 
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups Arborio rice (14 oz)
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 oz grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 cup)


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

Tightly wrap beets in a double layer of foil and roast on a baking sheet until very tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Cool in the foil package, about 20 minutes.

When beets are cool enough to handle, peel them, discarding stems and root ends, then cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

Bring broth to a bare simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Keep at a bare simmer, covered.

Cook onion in oil in a wide 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.

Add wine and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 1 minute. Stir in 1/2 cup broth and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is just tender and creamy-looking, 18 to 22 minutes. (Reserve any leftover broth.)

Stir in beets, salt and pepper (mixture will turn bright pink) and cook, stirring, until heated through. Thin as necessary with some leftover broth, then stir in cheese and remove from heat.

Ancient man consumed radicchio for its medicinal properties as a blood purifier and an aid for insomnia. Pliny, a Roman author and philosopher, mentions the red-lined lettuces of the Veneto region in his Naturalis Historia, noting that in addition to being tasty, they’re good for insomnia and purifying the blood. He also says, it was the Egyptians who bred radicchio from its more wild ancestor, chicory. In the Middle Ages it was especially popular among monks, who welcomed anything that would add zest and flavor to their simple vegetarian diets prescribed by their orders. Not that the plant was limited to monastic kitchens; it also figured prominently on the tables of nobles, both cooked and raw. In 1537 Pietro Aretino advised a friend, who had a garden, to plant radicchio, saying he much preferred it to “aroma-free lettuce and endive.”

The radicchio from that era isn’t the radicchio rosso we know today. The modern radicchio with its rich wine-red white-ribbed leaves was developed in the 1860’s by Francesco Van Den Borre, a Belgian agronomist, who applied the techniques used to whiten Belgian endive to the radicchio plants grown around Treviso. The process, which is called imbianchimento, is quite involved: the plants are harvested in late fall, their outer leaves are trimmed and discarded, and they are packed into wire mesh baskets where they stand for several days in darkened sheds with their roots bathed in steadily circulating spring water that emerges from the ground at a temperature of about 60 degrees F. As they bathe, the leaves of the hearts of the radicchio plants take on the pronounced wine-red color that distinguishes them (the deeper the red, the more bitter the plant). At this point the farmer unties the bunches, strips away the outer leaves, trims the root and sends the radicchio to the market.

Modern cultivation of the plant began in the fifteenth century in the Veneto region of Italy. The varieties of radicchio are named after the Italian regions where they originated. Radicchio farmers in the Veneto region have sought to have Protected Geographical Status applied to the names of these radicchio varieties to keep them tied to their original growing regions.

Chioggia is the most common variety grown and identified in the United States with its maroon, round, grapefruit-size heads. Radicchio Rosso di Chioggia was bred from the Variegato and, while it has dark red leaves with white ribs, it is more round than the Radicchio di Treviso. It’s also compact and, as a result, it resembles a head of cabbage in shape. It’s now the most commonly grown radicchio rosso in Italy.

Treviso is an elongated version of radicchio resembling a large Belgian endive or a red romaine heart. Radicchio Rosso di Treviso comes in two varieties: Precoce, which has fleshy red leaves with white ribs that form a compact bunch and Tardivo, which has more pronounced ribs and splayed leaves. As you might guess, Precoce comes into season first  and, although it is prettier to look at, the Tardivo is more flavorful, with stronger bitter accents. Both Precoce and Tardico now enjoy IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) status, which means that they can only be sold as such, if they are produced around Treviso, under the supervision of the Consorzio Radicchio di Treviso.

Tardivo and Castelfranco resemble flowers and are only available in winter months. Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco also enjoys IGP status. It looks more like a traditional head of lettuce but has deep wine-red stripes, and is also known as the Edible Flower. It’s a cross between radicchio and a round-headed endive.


Radicchio, like most vegetables, is seasonal. It appears in the markets in late November and remains throughout the winter. It is tastiest after the frosts begin. It has also been introduced and is grown in California’s Napa Valley. Radicchio is quite popular in Italy and is gaining popularity in the United States for its versatility and nutrition.

It is also good for you! Radicchio’s bitterness is due to intybin, which stimulates the appetite and digestive system. Radicchio is high in antioxidants, loaded with fiber and contains high levels of Vitamins B, C, and K.

When you bring radicchio home from the market, put it in the crisper section of your refrigerator. It will keep for a couple of days and, if it looks slightly wilted, stand it in a glass of water — the tap root has nutrients that feed the leaves and can absorb water. I found that all greens survive longer in the refrigerator, if I wrap them, individually, in paper towels and place them in a ziplock plastic bag.  My lettuce lasts a good two weeks with this method.

As An Appetizer

Radicchio and Arugula Salad with Roasted Pepper Dressing and Burrata Crostini

Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture.


  • 1/2 small yellow or red bell pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallot
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/4-inch-thick baguette slices
  • 3 ounces fresh burrata cheese
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely torn radicchio
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves


Char bell pepper half directly over gas flame or in broiler until skin is blackened. Enclose in paper bag for 10 minutes. Peel and seed bell pepper half; place in a mini processor. Add 1/2 tablespoon olive oil; puree until smooth. Transfer pepper mixture to small bowl; whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, capers, shallot, and sugar. Season dressing with salt and black pepper.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature and whisk before using.

Toast baguette slices; brush with olive oil. Top each toast with half of the burrata cheese; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Combine arugula, radicchio, and parsley in medium bowl; toss with half of dressing. Divide salad between plates. Place 1 toast alongside each salad; drizzle with the remaining dressing.

As A First Course

Radicchio Salad With Green Olive Dressing


  • 1 head radicchio
  • 18 green olives
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Freshly shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish


Trim radicchio and cut or tear into bite-size pieces. Put radicchio in a large salad bowl.

Mince olives and garlic into a paste and then mix with oil, vinegar or lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You can also do this in a blender, if you like.)

Toss radicchio with the dressing. Serve topped with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.

Linguine with Leeks, Radicchio, and Walnut Pesto


  • 8 ounces linguine
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups thinly sliced leeks (including the light green parts)
  • 1/2 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus shaved Parmesan for garnish
  • 1/4 cup walnut pieces (about 1 ounce) plus additional for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups thinly sliced radicchio


Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add leeks; season with salt and pepper. Cover; cook until tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Puree parsley, 1/4 cup Parmesan, 1/4 cup walnuts, lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons oil in mini processor until a coarse puree forms. Season pesto with salt and pepper.

Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta, pesto, and radicchio to leeks; toss, adding cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls until the sauce is the consistency you like. Garnish with walnuts and shaved Parmesan.


As A Side Dish

Roasted Radicchio

Roasting the radicchio mellows its slightly bitter flavor; balsamic vinegar adds a touch of sweetness. You can use either of the popular varieties of radicchio — round Verona Chioggia or slender Treviso — in this recipe, since they both yield delicious results. Serves 4


  • 2 medium heads radicchio, quartered lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Put radicchio wedges on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss gently to coat, and turn each wedge so a cut side faces baking sheet. Roast, turning once, until leaves are wilted and slightly charred, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a platter.

Just before serving, drizzle vinegar over each wedge and garnish with cheese shavings.

As A Second Course

Beef Steak with Radicchio and Gorgonzola

Serves 4-6


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large head radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced shallot
  • 1 garlic clove, gently smashed and peeled
  • 2 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)

FOR RADICCHIO: In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add radicchio, shallot and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until radicchio is wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat, add cheese and stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a bowl; remove and discard garlic. Wipe out skillet.


  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2 boneless rib eye steaks, about 1 pound each and 1 1/2 inches thick, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

FOR STEAK: On a cutting board, spread peppercorns in a single layer. Using underside of a small heavy skillet, firmly press peppercorns in a rocking motion to coarsely crush. Rub peppercorns into both sides of steaks, then season with salt.

Using same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter over high heat. Cook 1 steak, turning once, about 7 minutes total for medium rare. Transfer to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil. Wipe out skillet and repeat with remaining steak. Let steaks rest 10 minutes, then slice. Serve with radicchio.

Radicchio Stuffed Chicken Breast


  • 8 thinly sliced chicken breasts
  • 6 oz mascarpone cheese, plus extra for sauce, if needed
  • 8 whole leaves of radicchio 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Toothpicks


Dry chicken breasts on paper towels and lay each out on a piece of wax paper

Sprinkle salt and freshly ground black pepper on each breast.

Spread a tablespoon of cheese in the center of each breast, keeping cheese away from edges.

Then lay a slice of radicchio on each breast.

Begin rolling breast from the narrow tip. This way you have more coverage when you finish the roll and insert the toothpicks (2 for each breast).

Once each roll is complete, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick pan on medium heat.

Place chicken rolls in pan and brown on one side.

After a few minutes, check underside. Once well browned, turn rolls over and brown again.

After approximately 5 minutes, add white wine, cover and let rolls simmer. Some of the cheese will have melted out and mix with the wine and chicken juices to create a thick white sauce. If not, add a tablespoon of cheese to the simmering wine.

Tilt pan and spoon sauce on top of chicken rolls. Repeat. Let simmer. Remove chicken after about 5 more minutes.

Serve over rice.

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