The idea for this flexible summer salad has a couple of inspirations. For one thing, the ingredients are primarily local to the Midwest and are available throughout late spring to early fall, more or less. For another thing, the preparation of the beets—the idea of cooking them intact with their greens attached—came from an episode of my favorite show, A Chef’s Life, starring Chef Vivian Howard. Chef Howard interviewed a local person, Matt from Crooked Fence Produce, who swore that beets would have a better flavor if they were boiled with their greens attached, rather than cutting the greens off and using them in another way—something both Chef Howard and I have always done. I conferred with several foodie friends who thought this might be a tasty way to keep even more nutrients in the beets, so away I went. And my Midwestern Antipasto gave me the perfect opportunity to try this rather unconventional use (or not use) of beet greens.

You will no doubt recognize this dish’s relationship to true antipasto: the preparation of vegetables; the garnish of fats—although I did not include meat, you certainly could–the quick-pickling sauce, the balance of sweet, savory, sour and bitter; and the convenience of making it ahead (In fact, making it ahead by about 24 hours will enhance the flavors nicely!). But while my version closely resembles its Italian cousin, the recipe below is considerably more local, using what’s on hand at the farmers market near you. Be sure to take note of all the possible variations so that you can go with the flow of the market and use every last piece of produce, avoiding waste.

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So did it make a difference sacrificing those lovely beet greens? Well, I think so, and I tested this on other people, who all commented on the intense color and flavor of the beets, in particular. I do think the beets held their color better, were more flavorful, probably had more nutritional value and lost a touch of that overly earthy quality some people don’t like. For me, the greens now stay on when I’m preparing a dish such as this, but they will still find their leafy goodness in my salads and smoothies, too.

I truly love this dish because it meets all the Green Gal goals. You can keep this 100 percent local with only the veggies, cheeses, eggs and meats from your local farmers market. You will certainly be serving a healthy dish for friends and family. And, there’s so much room for brave creativity! Plus, even though there is plenty of work up front, it’s a wonderfully simple dish to serve at your next porch party or take on a picnic because it can all be made ahead. Perfetto!