The Beet Goes On

Mention beetroot to many people and the reaction more often than not is one of two extreme possibilities; an involuntary shudder with accompanying grimace or a rapturous vociferation about the joys of this underused and much maligned vegetable.
Beetroot is truly the Marmite of the vegetable world.
I admit for a long time I was with the former. Very rarely did you see beetroot presented as anything other than a side accompaniament to a rather unimaginative salad, either boiled on an industrial scale to within an inch of its life or doused in enough malt vinegar to dissolve your fillings.No thanks! The only discernable flavour was the acidic kick of the vinegar with nary a hint of the true epicurean delight that beetroot can deliver. Its no wonder that beetroot was consigned to orbit in the outer reaches of the vegetable galaxy.
My Damascene conversion to the joy of this wonderous globe came when for some reason lost in the mists of time, I decided to grow some in the hotel garden.I do not remember why, maybe I inadevertantly bought a packet of seeds or somebody gave me some. Either way, in the ground they went and thereafter were pretty much left to their own devices,unloved, unwanted, untended. In spite of this wilful neglect and regular attacks by voracious chickens who had free ranged out of their coop into vegetable territory ( an all too frequent happening), the plants grew, nay thrived in a forgotton, rarely visited corner of the garden. It is a sad indictment of my horticultural skills that they were so succesful in spite of (because of ?) my lack of attention and at some point later that summer I discovered that I had inadvertantly produced rather a lot of splendid looking beetroot.
So what to do now? Having survived against the odds I felt I needed to do justice to them. Boiling them seems to suck any flavour out of them and lets just stay away from the whole vinegar thing!
A little reading and research of course produced many recipes and suggestions for utilising them in many interesting and unusual ways all of which eschewed the usual pickling and boiling.
I have shared a couple of these recipes and ideas below but there are of course many more ways that you can utilise this wonderful earthy vegetable. Give them a go, you may surprise yourself!
The simplest way is to bake them just like a jacket potato. Leave an inch or so of the stalk and taking care not to break the skin , brush half a dozen ping pong ball sized beets with a little oil, place in a roasting tin with a pinch of salt and a sprig or two of thyme.. Bake in an oven preheated to 400°F/200°C/Gas Mark 6 for 30/35 minutes or until the beets are soft but not shrunken. This way the flavour is kept inside the skin and indeed intensified, the natural sugars in the vegetable also concentrate and the rich earthy flavour just seems to be elevated to a new high
You will need your marigolds to peel them if you want your hands to remain the same colour as the rest of you, but this is best achieved by gently squeezing them out of the skin and is quite satisfying to see this beautiful shiny perfect globe emerge from the wrinkled, dried casing.
Roasted like this the beetroot is excellent served with peppery salad leaves like rocket and watercress, a few sweet cherry tomatoes and a little goats cheese such as a soft creamy Capricorn or shavings of a firmer Woolsery, Drizzled ( are we still allowed to say drizzled?)with a little olive oil and a light fruity vinegar – not repeat not malt!! – it is a perfect summer salad.
As an accompaniment to a main course try a Beetroot Dauphinoise.This should produce six generous portions
8 medium potatoes
4 medium beetroot
half pint double cream and a quarter pint of milk
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig of thyme and one bayleaf.
Salt and pepper

Chop the garlic and sweat in a little oil in a deep pan with the bay leaf and thyme. Add the milk and cream and bring to the boil.Simmer gently for five minutes.
Peel the beetroot and potatoes, slice thinly and in a deep baking tray , alternate layers of potato and beetroot, seasoning each layer in turn to almost fill the tray. Remove the herbs from the cream and milk mix and pour over . Place a sheet of greaseproof on the top of the tray not quite covering the top, maybe an inch or so in from the edge all round.
Bake at 190c (375f or Gas Mk 5) for an hour or so until cooked.
Excellent with dark meats like beef and venison.


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