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Roasted Beets with Cabrales and Toasted Walnuts
From The Barcelona Cookbook, by Sasa Mahr-Batuz and Andy Pforzheimer

This is one of the first tapas we ever made, back in the original Norwalk barroom in 1996. Then it was almost impossible to find good Spanish blue cheese, and we went back and forth from Cabrales to Valdeón, depending on what was available and tasted best. These days we prefer Valdeón, but both are acceptable. If your market doesn't carry Spanish blues, any good blue cheese will work well.

The secret to the beets' flavor is to toss them with good Japanese rice wine vinegar while they are still hot. No other kind of vinegar works when it comes to complementing and capturing the sweetness of the beets. Andy stole this trick from well-known San Francisco chef Jeremiah Tower. If you refrigerate the beets, let them return to room temperature before you serve them.

Ingredients:

3 pounds red beets, tops removed
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 pound Cabrales or other blue cheese (such as Roquefort)
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (see Note)
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Sea salt, for garnish

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F (235°C).

2. Cut six 5- by 7-inch pieces of aluminum foil. Put 2 to 3 beets in the center of each sheet, making sure there is plenty of extra foil to work with.

3. Bring the sides of the foil sheets together and fold to form a package. Put the packages directly on the center rack of the oven and roast for about 1-1/2 hours, or until a knife can easily be inserted in the largest beet. Let the beets sit in the packages until they are cool enough to handle.

4. Using a clean kitchen towel (choose one you don't mind getting stained), rub each beet to remove the skin. Cut the peeled beets into rough dice measuring about 1-1/2-inches square.

5 . Transfer the beets to a mixing bowl and toss with the rice vinegar. Transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 2 days before continuing.

6. Divide the beets among 4 serving plates or arrange them on a serving platter. Crumble the blue cheese over the beets and then top with the walnuts and parsley. Garnish with sea salt and serve.

Note: To toast the walnuts, spread about 1/2 cup shelled walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in a 400°F (205°C) oven for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned. When the nuts are cool, chop them coarsely.

Yield: Serves 4

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