Here, raw beets provide a flavor foundation for fresh snap peas. The beets may stain your hands temporarily, but they're worth handling. Toasting the walnuts in the oil brings a nutty flavor to the dressing that really makes the dish.
Cookbook author and food blogger Ian Knauer uses fresh walnuts from trees on his family's Pennsylvania farm, but says store-bought walnuts are a fine stand-in.
- 1/2 cup black walnuts or regular walnuts
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound sugar snap peas (4 cups)
- 1 pound assorted beets with some greens attached, such as red, golden and/or Chioggia
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves, plus optional whole leaves for garnish
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup fresh ricotta, preferably homemade (see NOTE)
Toast the walnuts in the oil in a small skillet over medium heat until they are pale golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Let the nut oil cool completely.
Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add a pinch of salt. Trim the sugar snaps, then add them to the water; cook for about 2 minutes, until they are just bright green. Drain the snap peas and transfer them to the ice bath to cool. Drain them again and pat dry. Cut them on the diagonal into thin slices, transferring them to a large bowl as you work.
Trim the beets, leaving about 1 inch of stem. Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler, then, using the stems as handles, cut the beets into the thinnest slices you can. Then cut the slices into very thin matchsticks, adding them to the snap peas in the bowl. Discard the remaining stems.
Toss in the chopped mint, vinegar, the walnuts (with the oil), 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Scatter the mint leaves and dollops of ricotta over the top or on the side and serve.
NOTE: To make ricotta, line a large fine-mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. Place inside a separate large pot or large, deep bowl. Combine 1 gallon of whole milk, 3 cups of buttermilk, 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 2 teaspoons of salt in a large pot. Slowly bring nearly to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to prevent scorching as needed. At this point, solids will separate from the thinner, milky liquid (the whey). Pour through the cheesecloth-lined strainer; the whey can be reserved to use for baking bread, if desired. Drain the solids for about 30 minutes to form the ricotta. Once the cheese has cooled, use right away or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Adapted from Knauer's "The Farm" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
Email questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.