It’s fall in the Midwest!  According to the calendar, fall doesn’t start for another week, but it already feels like fall.  I dearly missed fall while in Madrid — I missed crunchy leaves in blazing colors, tree-lined streets exhibiting their autumnal foliage, crisp apples and apple-pie making… to name just a few of the wonderful things that this most delightful season brings us.

I also missed farmers’ markets while in Madrid.  Last year, in this entry, I commented on the lack of farmers’ markets in Spain; this fall, I’m back to farmers’ market, and Chicago doesn’t disappoint: almost every day there’s a market going on in some part of the city. Yesterday I went with my roommate to the farmers’ market in our neighborhood, Andersonville, which was teeming with late summer bounty. One of the many things I picked up was a bunch of beets. After taking them home and pondering it for a bit, I decided to test out salt roasting.

This article explains the science behind salt roasting:

Martina SABO of the Salt Institute, an industry trade group, says that’s about the size of it: The salt melts and forms a crust, making a kind of “oven within an oven,” she says. The effect is quite like steaming, but because salt is hygroscopic — meaning it absorbs any moisture — the surface of the food stays dry, giving a texture that is closer to roasted.

Sabo’s boss, Institute Technical Director Morton Satin happened to walk into her office when we were on the speakerphone and chimed in: “I have no idea how it works, but I can tell you that I lived in Italy for 20 years and always cooked fish that way. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I never stopped to analyze it. It’s not steaming, and it’s not roasting, but it’s a kind of hybrid of the two. And it’s very, very good.”

Satin says the food doesn’t taste overly salty because of osmosis — the salt pulls the water out of the food and then before it can be reabsorbed and make the food salty, it bakes into a hard shell that can be easily removed.

I tried this method of salt roasting, with very favorable results, and it couldn’t be simpler to make:

1. Line a roasting pan with a thin layer of salt.
2. Wash beets and chop off their leaves, and lie them on the bed of salt. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
3. Roast at 425 degrees for about an hour. Slice into them with a paring knife to test if they’re ready — they’re ready when the offer only a slight resistance.

4. When cooled, rub off the skin — it comes off easily, revealing the deep ruby color of the beet.

5. Slice and serve! In my book, they’re delicious enough to eat as is, and no worries, they aren’t salty at all.