Cut off the leafy tops of the beets, leaving about 1/2 inch of stem, and reserve them for another use. Wash the beets well to remove all of the sand.
Toss the beets with the oil, 1 tablespoon water, 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large bowl. Transfer the beets to a large piece of foil, add the herb sprig if using and wrap the foil up into a packet. Put the packet on a baking sheet and roast until fork-tender, 40 to 50 minutes depending on the size of the beets. Carefully open the packet, watching out for steam. Let the beets cool for 5 minutes, then peel while still warm by rubbing off the skins with paper towels.
Slice and dress the beets as desired and serve.
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