The Summer Beet

Chioggia Beet Salad & Red Beet Pesto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

There’s a good argument to be made that summer cooking is more about not cooking or cooking as little as possible. Why heat up the kitchen, or work up a sweat?

Chioggia beets fit right in with the no-heat approach to summer eating. Sometimes called candy cane or bulls eye beets, Chioggias (pronounced: key-oh-gee-ya) are best raw because the color fades with heat, although you may get away with lightly steaming them well-doused with lemon juice. It’s an heirloom variety from the town of Chioggia, Italy, near Venice, introduced to the U.S. in the mid-1800s (1,2,3).

Ancient Romans and Greeks grew beets for their leafy greens. The roots were used for medicinal purposes until the 16th century when eating them caught on.  Often thought of as a cool-weather crop, the Greeks and Romans found a way to grow them in the heat of summer (4) as we have done. My husband grew these gorgeous Chioggias in early summer with seeds from Italy.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto
Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Beets have nutritional benefits. While they are rich in folate and contain dietary fiber and various vitamins and minerals, they may be best known for their phytochemicals such as their red-purple and yellow betalain pigments, phytosterols and inorganic, naturally occurring nitrates which may benefit cardiovascular and cognitive health, and athletic performance. The American Heart Association gives beets a thumbs up. (4,5,6,7,9,10).

Whether you grow them or grab them at a market, use the nutrient-packed beet greens which are rich in vitamins A, C, K and B2 and the minerals magnesium, copper, and potassium (4,8). Toss baby greens in salad and sauté the mature ones as you would chard, kale, or spinach. Blanch them in boiling, salted water, plunge in an ice bath, drain, and then sauté.

Here’s my ridiculously simple way to marinate Chioggia beets:

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto
  1. Peel beets and slice very thinly (and carefully) with a mandoline.
  2. Toss with a little salt and equal amounts of olive oil and lemon juice (For 3/4 pounds of beets use about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 2-3 tablespoons each, fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Cover and chill, stirring occasionally. They’ll keep for several days. If the beets are large, cut the slices into halves or triangles. To use these beautiful beets:
Photo by Lorelle Del Matto
Photo by Lorelle Del Matto
  • Launch a summer party with a composed salad of shingled Chioggia beets anchored on plates with whipped feta or goat cheese, or a garlicy herbed Greek yogurt.
  • Try them on bruschetta or pizza: The pizza above is cooked with garlic-herb-oil. After baking it is covered with a layer of soft goat cheese, Red Beet Pesto (recipe follows) and marinated Chioggia beets.
  • Toss them with salad greens.

If you don’t see Chioggia beets at your market, grab widely available red beets and spin them into this versatile pesto. You do have to cook them first but that can be streamlined: cube and steam them until soft, then make pesto. Roast them in cooler weather.

Beat the heat with beets.

Red Beet Pesto

Toss with pasta or use as a spread on sandwiches, bruschetta, or pizza. The flavor should be bright with lemon and a kick from the red pepper to balance the earthy sweetness of the beets. Blanch the garlic if you prefer a milder flavor.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Makes 2 cups.

1 pound raw red beets, cooked*

½ cup walnuts, pine nuts or almonds, toasted

1/4 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

1-2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  1. In a food processor, combine beets (cooked, cooled and peeled), nuts, cheese, juice, zest, garlic, salt and crushed red pepper.  Process until chopped. Add olive oil through feed tube while blending and process until smooth, stopping to scrape bowl once or twice.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

*Buy cooked beets if you loathe any form of heat in the summer. Or do what I do – peel and cube them and then steam stovetop or with a little water in the microwave oven (about 10 minutes). In cooler months, I oven-roast them which concentrates their flavor.


  2. Beet, Chioggia – Burpee
  3. Chioggia Beets – Wisconsin Horticulture
  4. Beets — The History, Myriad Uses, and Health Benefits of These Beloved Roots – Today’s Dietitian Magazine (

© Lorelle Del Matto 2023

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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