Lately, Tony, Gio and I have found ourselves getting lost on the prairie at our friends' farmstead just south of Casselton, N.D.

Greg and Lisa Cook, of Fargo, purchased the farm a year ago with a vision of becoming North Dakota grape growers and winemakers at what they now call 4 Elements Winery. They planted 325 grapevines last spring, which will have grapes mature enough to harvest for wine production in about three to four years. In the meantime, they plan to make wine from grapes grown by other North Dakota growers.

When Greg isn't at his day job as an organic chemist at North Dakota State University, he can often be found out at the farmstead, actively working to prepare the farm for its new purpose. Greg lured us out for a visit last month with the promise of taking home as much fresh basil as we could use. With a restaurant to run and a food column to write, how could we resist?

We have been out to visit the farm several times since, and the peaceful allure of rural life is beginning to rub off on all three of us. There's something about a North Dakota prairie that just makes us feel good.

Gio loves the freedom of being on a farm, happily chasing after barn cats and leaping toads, mud catching his clothes at every chance. Tony loves the newness; having grown up in urban Toronto, life on the prairie holds an appealing simplicity for him.

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I appreciate the relationship between land and sky, which is so vast and open it sometimes seems as if you could reach up and touch the weather. And I especially love the sunsets, which remind me so much of our life at sea.

After harvesting an insane amount of aromatic, sweet basil, Greg encouraged us to return to the farm in October to harvest some beets. He had golden beets, which have a gorgeous, bright gold color, and Chioggia beets, which are dramatically red and white striped. Both varieties have a lovely, sweet flavor, and we knew just what to do with our bounty: Roasted Beet Carpaccio.

Beets have been given a bad rap over the years, but many people actually love this root vegetable. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that beets are considered a good-mood-food, full of betaine and tryptophan, nutrients known for relaxing our mind and creating a feeling of well-being.

This week's recipe for Roasted Beet Carpaccio makes me happy for a variety of reasons. First, beets are colorful and create a stunning presentation. Second, beets have a distinctive, sweet earthiness in flavor and texture, which reminds me of the prairie where they were harvested. Third, while beets can be boiled, steamed, grilled or pickled, roasting brings out even more of their natural sweetness and enhances the overall taste experience. It also makes the skins much easier to remove.

The Italian word "carpaccio" originally referred to raw meat or fish that was served very thinly sliced, but today's use can include vegetables, too. We slice our beets very thin and lay them out on a plate or serving platter so they are touching but not overlapping. Next, we drizzle Honey Gorgonzola Vinaigrette (featured on April 24 and available on our blog at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com) over the entire platter.

Top the beets with toasted walnuts, fresh gorgonzola cheese and place a mound of fresh greens in the center. Arugula or baby spinach would also work well. So would a glass of North Dakota wine from 4 Elements Winery.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni.

Red Beet Carpaccio with Honey Gorgonzola Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

6 to 8 red beets, roasted and cut into thinly sliced rounds

1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

1 cup fresh gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1 package fresh greens, arugula or baby spinach

¼ to ½ cup red wine vinaigrette (recipe in June 5 column)

¾ cup honey gorgonzola vinaigrette (recipe in April 24 column)

Salt to taste

Directions:

Place the whole beets on a sheet pan and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for about one hour, until they are soft all the way through. Cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, then refrigerate overnight or for at least two hours.

Once the beets are thoroughly chilled, remove all the skin using your hands or a paring knife. Next, slice each beet into rounds, using a sharp knife or food mandolin. Lay each slice flat on a serving platter or individual plates. For individual servings, cover the entire surface of the plate with the sliced beets without overlapping, approximately four slices per person.

Drizzle the entire platter with the honey gorgonzola vinaigrette or about 2 tablespoons each per plate.

Toss the arugula or greens with red wine vinaigrette and season with salt to taste. For individual servings, place about a cup of greens in the center of each plate, over the beets. For long platters, run the greens down the middle of the entire platter. For round platters, place all the greens in the center.

Sprinkle the platter or plate with toasted walnuts and gorgonzola crumbles and enjoy.

Tony's tips

  • Roasted Red Beets may bleed their color, but Golden and Chioggia beets do not.
  • Once roasted, the beets may be sliced up to two days in advance of serving. Be sure to cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Sliced avocado, when in season, is a great addition to this salad. Use two to three avocados for this recipe, and cut lengthwise into thin slices.