As the summer season fades, the colors and flavors of our garden vegetables turn darker, deeper and more flavorful. Take those earthy, sweet beets that seem to bridge late summer and early fall. While they are a hardy, reliable storage crop, one that we’ll find in the co-ops through winter, beets are at their very best right now.

The local beets at our farmers markets come in a range of gorgeous hues — magenta, gold, pink, striped (called Chioggia).

When shopping, look for beets that are firm and plump with greens still intact and avoid any that look wrinkled or feel soft. Remove the greens before storing in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. These are also delicious sautéed in olive oil or butter as you would spinach or kale.

Beets can be polarizing, but I think those doubters have never tasted a fresh local beet that’s been properly cooked. Roasted to be tender and slightly caramelized, beets become more of themselves. A splash of lemon, lime or blood orange awakens their sugary nature. I toss them in the oven like baked potatoes and they’re cooked when a sharp paring knife easily pierces the center. There is no need to peel before roasting because the skin will rub right off after they’ve cooled.

Beware that red beets, whether cooked or raw, color everything they touch. Use care when slicing red beets, for they will stain white shirts, towels, etc. When added to risotto, tossed with pasta, or potatoes, red beets color the entire dish a shocking shade of bright pink.

Beets vary dramatically in size. One pound of beets (5 to 10 beets) will yield about 2 to 3 cups of cooked diced beets.

The subtly sweet beets are enhanced with tangy flavors — lemon, lime, vinegar, yogurt. Once roasted, the beet can be used in a number of different delicious ways:

Beet hummus: Purée roasted beets into your favorite hummus recipe and season with lemon juice.

Beet and beet green salad: Remove and discard the long, colored beet stems and slice the greens. Roast the beets (see below); peel and dice. Sauté the greens in olive oil until wilted. Toss in the diced beets and heat through, season with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and serve warm.

Risotto: Toss cooked beets into your favorite risotto recipe, season with a little lemon or orange zest; it will turn bright pink. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Beet soup (borscht): Simmer diced beets in vegetable stock with several sprigs of thyme. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a splash of raspberry vinegar or lime juice.

 

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.

Beet Salad With Lemon, Thyme and Mint Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Once the beets have roasted, this salad is ready in a snap. You’ll have a little extra vinaigrette. It will store in a covered container in the fridge for about 3 days. Use it to baste grilled chicken or fish, toss with cooked corn and tomatoes, and drizzle over sliced cucumbers. From Beth Dooley.

• 1 1/2 lb. mixed red and gold beets, scrubbed

• 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

• 1 tbsp. grated lemon zest

• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint

• 1 small garlic clove, smashed

• 1 tsp. honey

• 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

To roast the beets: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Scrub the beets and place on a baking sheet to roast in the oven until a sharp knife inserted in the center enters without resistance, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove, allow to cool and peel.

Working on separate cutting boards (to keep the red beets from bleeding into the gold beets), slice the red beets into rounds. Cut the gold beets into 1-inch pieces. Arrange the red beets on a serving platter or individual plates in a fan shape. Mound the golden beets in the center of the red.

To make the dressing: Put the lemon juice, zest, thyme, mint, garlic and honey into a blender and process until smooth. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the beets and serve at room temperature.

Nutrition per each of 6 servings:

Calories 200

Fat 18 g

Sodium 60 mg

Carbohydrates 9 g

Saturated fat 3 g

Total sugars 6 g

Protein 1 g

Cholesterol 0 mg

Dietary fiber 2 g

Exchanges per serving: 2 veg., 3 ½ fat.