Beetroot, in our memories of childhood eating, seems to be exclusively of the pickled variety, in jars of deep pink liquid; staining hands, clothes and surfaces. Pickled beetroot has its uses of course and is a good for a shortcut way of making beetroot hummus or even the baba ghanoush recipe below.
Using the real thing is always best generally giving you less of the startling sweetness of jarred beetroot and far more of the earthy flavours. The more we have cooked with beetroot the more and more fond we have become of it.
Striped candy beetroot in a salad, sliced thinly, gives a crisp, sharp and sweet element unlike anything else. The bright juice of a regular red beetroot tastes like the earth itself. The jewel-like golden variety gives a more citrus,perfume-like flavour almost akin to orange oil.
Beetroot is generally sowed in spring or early summer and its main bounty available from the end of August all the way through to winter. Farmers’ markets will give you the more heritage types like candy or golden beetroots.
The candy ones or ‘chioggia’ as they are more officially known are white fleshed with carmine rings and are best eaten raw, thinly sliced and marinated in a little lemon juice and salt. When you peel them, they will almost look like a potato, only revealing their beautiful stripes when you cut into them.
It is in farmers’ markets and greengrocers as well where you will find beetroot still very much attached to their large, purple veined stems and leaves.
These can be used like any leaf such as chard, spinach or kale, although they require a little more work to get them tender. Beetroot tops should only be used when very freshly picked as they wilt and go a bit rubbery quite quickly.
Not only is this dish simply delicious but it also looks beautiful with the pinks, oranges and yellows of the salad. Hake is our favourite white fish to use because of its subtle, clean freshness and adaptability.
Candy beetroot refers to the paler, striped varieties with pink or yellow rings and white flesh. They are beautiful when sliced thinly and eaten raw like this. You can often find them in farmers markets and good greengrocers, but if you have any trouble finding them, just use the purple or golden variety, make sure they are good and firm. Scrub the beetroot well with cold water and peel off the outer layer before slicing them. Use gloves if you want to avoid pink stained hands.
4 hake fillets, skin on, roughly 175g each
Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of chopped parsley
For the salad
4 medium-sized candy beetroot
4 medium good quality oranges
Zest of ½ lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of half an orange
Salt and pepper
Firstly, make the salad: Slice the beetroot as thinly as possible into almost transparent rounds. In a shallow bowl, combine the slices with the juice of 1 lemon, juice of ½ an orange, and a pinch of salt and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to marinate.
The beetroot should soften in this time but should retain a little crunch. Peel the oranges and slice thinly into rounds, assembling them on a large platter with the marinated slices of candy beetroot.
Spoon over a little of the marinating juices and season again with a little salt and pepper. Season your fillets of hake with salt and pepper.
In a frying pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and arrange the fillets skin side down, cooking them until the skin starts to crisp — around three minutes. Turn over and cook for a further three or four minutes or until the fillets are cooked through but not over done.
Arrange the fillets on top of the beetroot and orange slices, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them and sprinkle with chopped parsley and pink peppercorns.
We came across a big bunch of mucky beetroots in a store once with the most beautiful leaves sprouting from the tops. The inky purple of the beetroot had spread itself into the veins of the leaves.
Beetroot tops can be harder work than other leaves such as spinach and even kale but spending a little more time, cooking them down until the purple stalks grow tender and sweet is all the more rewarding when you taste the end result which is full of peppery greenness.
Speck is common in the Austrian Tyrol, northern Italy and Germany. It is very similar to prosciutto,although it has a distinctly juniper flavour which goes well with the beetroot tops. If you cannot find any speck, use prosciutto instead.
400g of dried orecchiette
20 or so beetroot tops
100g of speck, sliced thinly
2 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of parsley
80g of walnuts, chopped roughly
1 tbsp of grated parmesan
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and black pepper
1 garlic clove, slice thinly
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Wash the beetroot tops well in cold water and leave to drain in a colander. Add the pasta to the pot and cook for roughly 10 minutes or until al dente. Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the sliced garlic clove. When the garlic starts to turn golden and fragrant, add the beetroot tops, wilting it in the butter.
Next add the thin slices of speck and stir through the pan for around one minute before adding the lemon juice and parmesan. Take the pan off the heat, season to taste. Stir through the walnuts and parsley. I like to serve the pasta with several blobs of ricotta on each plate of pasta, seasoned with salt and pepper.
The recipe for this came about through our usual absent mindedness. We were making a beetroot hummus but we had forgotten to pick up chickpeas. We decided to try and make a sort of beetroot baba ghanoush instead.
The resulting, fuchsia-coloured spread is lighter and sweeter than our usual hummus, being of a more concentrated earthy beetroot experience. We like to sprinkle a little za’atar on top, which is a middle eastern mix of spices usually featuring thyme, oregano, marjoram, sesame seeds and sumac. Whenever we make this now, we tend to grill the beets instead of boiling them.
3 large beetroot, peeled and sliced into half-inch slices
Juice of one lemon
1 heaped tbsp of tahini
1 garlic clove, crushed
Zest of half an orange
A sprinkle of za’atar to garnish
Turn on the grill to high and prepare the beets on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Rub a little oil on the slices and season with sea salt.
Grill until tender and starting to lightly char. You will have to turn them half way through cooking, give them roughly 10 minutes each side. Remove from grill and leave to cool.
Place the cooled grilled slices in a food processor along with the lemon juice, tahini and crushed garlic. Blitz until smooth and then stir in the orange zest, check for seasoning as it may need a little salt.
Scoop into a nice bowl or jar and sprinkle a little za’atar on top. We tend to serve this with toasted pitta bread.