A couple of years ago, my wife was working as a hostess at a restaurant in Manhattan called Mas Farmhouse, which is in the West Village. I remember one of the most memorable dishes that I had there was also one of the simplest: a butternut squash terrine with ricotta and a black pepper vinaigrette. Simple in presentation, simple in concept. It wasn't even necessarily the best thing that we had that night, but it stuck with me. I still think about it every once in a while and recently it dawned on me that I should take a shot at recreating it. It's like a new tattoo, if you can't get the idea out of your head, you should probably just go for it. So it took me a couple of years, but I decided this weekend that I wanted to make an attempt at my own terrine. I had a few specific ingredients in mind - I wanted to use beets, ricotta, and pistachios. I wanted to make a departure from the predictable beets and goat cheese combo. It's a solid combination, no doubt about that, but I thought beet and ricotta could be just as good - strongly flavored marinated beets mixed with creamy ricotta, with some pistachios in there for texture. I used gelatin to try to bind the layers together, which ultimately ended up not contributing much. I think I could have solved that a couple of different ways (which I will get to later), but the terrine was really tasty in the end.
Beet, Ricotta, and Braised Pistachio Terrine
2 bunches beets (red, golden, or chiogga) with greens
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c white balsamic vinegar
1 gallon milk
2 c heavy cream
1/3 c + 1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c chopped tarragon
1/4 c chopped chives
1 c pistachios
2 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs tarragon
2 loose c arugula
gelatin packets (optional)
For the beets:
Preheat the oven to 400º. Separate the beet greens and set aside. Trim the beets and place in a roasting pan. Fill 1/4 way up with water and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 40 minutes or until they pierce easily with a knife. Allow them to cool and then peel them with your fingers.
When they are cool, slice them approximately 1/8" to 1/4" thick. Mix the oil, vinegar, and 1 tsp salt to make a vinaigrette. Lay the beets in a pan and pour the vinaigrette over them. If you are mixing red beets with any of the others, keep them separated and distribute the vinaigrette evenly. Allow them to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour. When you pull the beets out to make the terrine, reserve the vinaigrette. That will end up as the dressing for the arugula salad.
For the ricotta:
Home made ricotta is no joke. If you haven't tried it before, it is well worth the effort. It dries out to a crumbly cheese consistency, not the wet mush that you get in the store. If you buy store bought ricotta, just spread it out on some cheesecloth on a cooling rack or something to allow the liquid to drain off and let it dry out for a while prior to using.
Bring the milk, cream, and salt to a near simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Pour the lemon juice in and give a good stir. Allow the curdles to form and stir again. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until the curds are mostly formed. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place a large bowl under the colander. Drain the curds into the colander and reserve about 2c of the whey which has dripped through into the bowl. This will be your braising liquid for the pistachios. When the ricotta has cooled, stir in the chopped tarragon and chives. If you're feeling frisky you could zest the lemons prior to squeezing the juice out and then add the zest to the ricotta.
For the pistachios:
Pour the whey into a saucepan with the parsley, bay leaf, and tarragon. Bring to a simmer and pour the pistachios in. Braise them in the liquid for approximately 10 minutes - until soft but still with a little bit of bite. Strain the pistachios out, rinse, and chop. These turned out really tasty, faint hints of tarragon and the buttery pistachio taste made for a good combination.
For the beet greens:
Trim the stems out of the beet greens and rinse. Bring a pot full of water to boil and prepare an ice bath. Blanch the greens for just a minute and then move to the ice bath. Lay them out on paper towels and cover with plastic wrap until ready to assemble.
In my nervous state to put this together, I forgot to take pictures of everything, so I'm going to have to improvise on some of these. The layers don't progress perfectly but you get the gist. If you are using the gelatin, sprinkle some between each layer to help bind them. I used the powdered gelatin and sprinkled a generous amount on each layer. It still did not seem to bind well though. Another option suggested to me, which I wish I would have tried, was to use a spray bottle with gelatin/water to evenly coat each layer. My real problem was the pistachio layer - the gelatin did not bind anything in that layer. I could have solved that a couple of different ways - I could have bookended the pistachio layer with ricotta, which would have made a little ricotta sandwich and potentially bound everything together. The other option might have been to create a separate pistachio/gelatin mold and then lay in the layer after the gelatin set. I'm not sure if the textures would have worked (jello mixed with ricotta?) but it would have held together much better. In the end it tasted great but the gelatin brought very little to the party. If you are vegetarian or just don't want to use gelatin, I'd just drop it altogether and make sure that the pistachios are layered in a fashion that is conducive to slicing later.
Ok here we go: Line some sort of deep walled pan (like a bread pan) with plastic wrap.
Line the edges with the blanched beet greens...
Place a layer of red beets down - pat them dry with paper towels prior to laying them in to reduce the amount of bleeding that they do (this is actually the top layer, tee hee).
Place a layer of ricotta down, about half of the total amount
Another layer of beets...
All of the pistachios
And repeat the process in reverse (gold, ricotta, red) for the top layers, wrapping the beet greens over top at the very end..
Cover the top with a sheet of plastic wrap and place a heavy weight on top. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, invert the dish and use the plastic wrap to help get the terrine out. Use a warm knife to cut through the terrine and wipe the blade clean after each slice. You can see that the red beets bled into the ricotta, despite the fact that I literally wiped them all dry with paper towels. I think next time I will avoid red beets altogether. I wish I could get my hands on some chiogga beets, they would be really nice.
To plate, toss the arugula with the reserved beet vinaigrette and some chopped pistachios. I served the terrine with the salad and seared tuna with chive oil.