Mille Feuille de Bettrave
Lately I have been loading up on armfuls of freshly yanked ruddy beets sold in thick bunches by the Guillon family, who have a goat farm in Rontalon about 18 miles outside of Lyon. One thing to do with them is a little millefeuille de bettrave that incorporates their generous offering of chopped home grown herbs in their fresh farm cheese. Pipe this in between layers of these beets, and finish with a cold sauce using hazelnuts and either watercress or arugula with a nice green olive oil base. I do this in some form every year when the beets are just throwing themselves at me like they are now, alternating the greens as weeks flow by with similarly good results.
The last time I did this dish with students, I was setting up my work stations and realized that my hazelnut supply was gone. Sometimes little kitchen trolls gobble them in the night, it must be noted. I could have gone out on a wild goose chase for hazelnuts in the neighborhood, wasting the time I had set aside to think, or I could toast up some almonds. After we popped a little amuse bouche involving puff pastry we'd folded and rolled ourselves, we plated and served our millefeuille de bettrave. I tasted the sauce with almonds and was taken with that feeling of joy that comes when the resonance of flavors hits just so. I immediately marked this down in my kitchen notebook. You should try it with almonds too.
This recipe is very flexible, and should be adapted to whatever fresh herbs you have available to you. What you want to take from this recipe is the thought, the reflex, telling you that you can do a salad like this with just about anything. The one thing to keep in mind is that for your sauce, you want something with a little bit of spice, like watercress or arugula, and for the little puffs of creamy filling, use the classic mix of fines herbes (chives, parsley, chervil, and tarragon), avoiding heavy doses of strong flavored aromatic herbs that don't work well in groups.
Recipe: Mille Feuille de Bettrave
500 g fresh farm cheese (goat, cow, or sheep's cheese all work)
heavy cream as needed
1/2 bouquet chervil
1 bouquet chives
1/2 bouquet of parsley
a few sprigs of tarragon
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
6 small beets
salt and pepper, to season
1 handful of arugula or watercress
3 leaves of sorrel, optional
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 handful of fresh parsley
50 g almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts or pistachios crushed or slivered and toasted
1 fresh spring garlic shoot or a 1/2 clove of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to season
-Note about the nuts and nut oils: If you're using walnuts, why not also add a little walnut oil to your sauce? Same goes for pistachios, if you keep these oils in your home, try adding a little bit to your sauce. It has a really nice effect.
- Steam or boil the beets and transfer them to an ice bath, then slip the skins off. Doing this in the water helps keep things cleaner in my experience. Slice thin.
- Mix the cheese, the herbs, and the nutmeg, adding cream if the cheese you have is not creamy to your liking. Add the olive oil or mixture of oils, stir until smooth, and season with salt and pepper.
- On individual serving plates, make stacks starting with a slice of beet, then the seasoned cheese, beet then cheese, ending with beet. You can experiment with how you like to stack your mille feuille, either doing it in a more 'classic' way, straight up in a pile, or stacking it along like dominoes, turning it into a generous salad-like heap if you plan to make this a significant part of your meal. The point is layering the beets and the cheese, really.
- Toast the nuts in a dry skillet over medium to high heat, until they begin to brown and release their aroma. Transfer immediately to a cool plate.
- Make the sauce by blending, crushing or pulsing the greens, oil, garlic and 3/4 of the nuts.
- When plating, drizzle the green sauce on the stack of beets and herb enriched creamy cheese and also on the plate, adding droplets of good green olive oil as well. Garnish with fresh herb leaves and sprigs, and slivered or crushed almonds.