All root crops, even pretty ones, hide their beauty underground, but some take an extra step of concealment. Beets, for example. Hosed down and scrubbed, red beets will have a hearty maroon glow, even if their shoulders, protruding above ground a bit, have taken on a roughened tan. Sliced open, they are brighter still. And certain varieties are positively dazzling within.
Chioggia, an Italian heirloom associated with the city of that name near Venice, have a bull’s-eye pattern of concentric red circles alternating with white ones, like the rings of a cut tree trunk. (The shape is fanlike if the root is cut vertically rather than across.)
This is caused by a condition called zoning, in which spells of hot weather produce a lack of pigmentation, and it’s considered a defect except in varieties such as Chioggia that are prized for the decorative effect. Other common names are Bull’s Eye and Candy Stripe. Chioggia’s greens are especially tasty, and an improved, widely available version called Guardsmark is more vigorous and productive in the garden.
Golden beets are a gorgeous red-orange when dug, but they get their name from the brilliant yellow-gold flesh inside. They are a bit less sweet than red beets, but a touch of honey added after cooking will fulfill the expectations of those who like their beets sugary. They are also popular for the fact that they don’t bleed when cooked, lest you taint the whiteness of the potato salad or filet of sole that shares the plate.
Certain radishes also keep their secrets well. One that stands out is the Chinese Beauty Heart type that is a dull rose or tan without but sports a magenta starburst pattern within. It’s a bit random — sometimes the color suffuses the whole radish; other times it’s subtler, like a sunrise that faintly streaks the sky. Varieties include Red Meat and Misato Rose.
Late June is a bit too late to plant beets and radishes, but in a month or two it’ll be time to sow them for fall, in a spot vacated by bush beans or some other summer-harvested crop.
All of these interior displays fade a certain degree with cooking, even if it’s just a light steaming. So cooks are prone to find ways to display them raw, especially when harvested tender and young. I’ve found that if sliced as thinly as possible, they make an excellent wafer or canape designed to hold a dab of soft goat cheese. Try arranging the slices in overlapping rings on a salad plate, slicked with vinaigrette and topped with small tender greens such as arugula, claytonia and mâche. This mix would form part of a well-planned autumn plate: Those greens are also at their best in cool weather.
Golden beets, alas, turn brownish from oxidation when cut, much the way apples do. But the acid in a vinegar- or lemon-based dressing will keep them bright just long enough for you to admire them before lifting your fork.
Tip of the week
We are at the very start of mosquito season: Patrol the yard to remove sources of standing water, including tires, toys, stored boats and canoes, tarpaulins, cans, pots, wheelbarrows and clogged gutters. Even soda cans can provide a breeding site. — Adrian Higgins
Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”