Before leaving California this year, the Greek and I decided to have our own little Christmas dinner the night we exchanged presents. While it was but a humble feast since I largely spent the day grading papers and the Greek had to make an early evening lab run, we ate well and discovered some recipes that will become a part of our dining repertoire–namely, the very festive and appropriately colored Beets with Pistachio Butter and Baked Apples with Candied Nuts.
Good stuff, all of it. The meal was largely inspired by the book that I got the Greek for Christmas: Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting. While I had been a little worried that he wouldn’t like the book, it turned out that it was his favorite gift out of the things I had gotten for him. Not only does it include a lot of good recipes (and what, dare I ask, is more manly than roasting meat in the kitchen?), but it also explains the science of roasting. I should have known that if you throw science into the mix, it’s instantly going to be a winner.
We had the roasted apple and nut mix for breakfast with leftover gingerbread. If you have a crazy amount of apples and nuts (the combination of my collection of pine nuts with the Greek’s was truly a sight to behold. My guess is that we’ll be eating pesto until we’re well into our 50s), this is a good way to use them. Whether eaten alone or with ice cream (the apples reappeared for dessert in the evening), the softly spiced and tender apple-nut mixture is a nice way to add a fruity touch to any meal. I was envisioning adding them to my morning oatmeal, or thinking about how nicely they would taste with some Greek yogurt or cottage cheese. Needless to say, the possibilities are endlessly tempting.
And for dinner, it was all about the beets we had bought on our way back from Monterey. While I had had my eye on the recipe for Beets with Pistachio Butter (really, it was all about the pistachio butter) from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for months, I managed to forget to buy beets every time I went to the grocery store. But somehow Christmas seemed the right time. The nice thing about roasting beets is that you wrap them in foil, put them in the oven at 400 degrees F and, in an hour or so, they’ll be done–soft and ready to eat. The only high maintenance thing about this recipe is the pistachio nut butter–a mixture of freshly ground pistachios, garlic and canola oil. But it’s worth it; what you’ll be left with is truly worthy of a holiday feast and the best of both worlds: vegetables roasted to tender perfection and a salty, creamy nut butter.
It may be too late for me to impact your own holiday feast, but, even if you don’t get around to it until after the New Year, I hope these recipes make it onto your tables sometime soon.
Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! Eat well and be safe!
Agave-Roasted Apples with Candied Nuts
Adapted from Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting
Yields about 4-6 servings
7 large crisp apples such as Pink Lady, Braeburn or Jazz
1/3 cup plus 1 1/4 tbsp maple syrup or agave
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
A few pinches of kosher salt
1 1/4 cup nuts (pine, walnut and pecans)
vanilla ice cream–optional
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Line a baking sheet and a smaller pan (we used a 9″ cake pan) with aluminum foil
-Prepare the apples: peel them, cut them into quarters, remove the seeds and cores and cut the quarters into 1/2 inch cubes.
-Pile the apples onto the large baking sheet and toss with 1/3 cup agave, 3 tbsp melted butter and the nutmeg, ginger and salt.
-Toss to combine and arrange apples in a loose single layer on the sheet.
-Roast the apples on the bottom rack, tossing after 15 minutes and then after another 10 so that they roast evenly, until soft and caramelized, yet not completely collapsed, about 35-40 minutes (N.B. this stage depends on the age of your apples; if they’re a bit older like ours were, the baking time might be less since the apples aren’t as fresh and hydrated).
-Prepare the nuts: spread them out on a smaller baking sheet and drizzle with the remaining agave, 1 Tbsp. butter and a pinch of salt.
-Toss to coat.
-Spread the nuts out in a single layer and roast on the rack above the apples, stirring once or twice, until the nuts are toasty and brown (for about 10 minutes).
-Mix the nuts and fruit together and eat alone, with vanilla ice cream, or in the ways I suggested above.
Beets with Pistachio Butter
Yields 4 delectable servings of a recipe that vibrates with good health
2 large beets (about 1-1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 cup canola oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup shelled pistachios
Salt and freshly ground pepper (sea salt)
-Bake beets in foil (preheat oven to 400. Wash the beets and wrap them individually in foil and put them on a cookie sheet).
-Cook for 45-90 minutes (the cooking time depends on the size of your beets) or until a knife pierces them with little resistance
-In the meantime, put half the oil in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and cook for about a minute.
-Add the pistachios and then cook for another 3 minutes, stirring often.
-Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Then, transfer to a food processor.
-Puree until smooth, adding more oil as necessary–you want a consistency of a thin nut butter that is easily pourable. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
-Now that you’ve prepared the nut butter, you can return to the beets. Remove them from oven, let cool slightly and then peel away their outer layer of skin.
-Cut them into large chunks and arrange in a serving dish.
-Spoon pistachio butter over the top (liberally–the pistachio butter is a keeper, even without the beets).
-Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes for great leftovers, too!