During the last few years I have developed an appreciation for how food that naturally grows in season really does taste like it ‘fits’ the moment. Beetroot is a perfect example of this.
Its earthy, almost nutty flavour makes me want to snuggle into the sofa with a big bowl of stew, a glass of red wine, a wood fire and have a cosy Sunday afternoon nap. After all, what are winters for?!
This year, there seemed to be a never-ending line of beetroot in my vegetable bed. Yes, I know I planted them, so I should have seen it coming. My excuse: they’re so low-maintenance. Some watering, a bit of weed-pulling and the inevitable thinning-out when they get a bit bigger. I hate the thinning bit. I imagine them screaming at me: ‘Nooooo! I could have been such a TASTY beetroot!”. But, other than that, they pretty much look after themselves.
So, what to do with them all? There are only two humans in this household and although my ducks will eat the leaves (slightly pink eggs!), I didn’t try them on the cat for obvious reasons.
Beetroot is really pretty versatile. It does have a habit of turning things pink, which I think can put a lot of people off. But, if you add it to food right at the end, you should only get a pleasant blush as opposed to a full-on look-at-me hot pink vibe. Of course, you can add it to food that’s already red – grated beetroot works brilliantly in a red wine risotto, for example.
And don’t worry about turning your dishes pink, either. As long as you don’t chop beetroot on wood, it won’t stain and washes off surfaces really easily. You might get slightly pink fingers for a while but that’ll wash off in no time. Some people use gloves.
For people who are nervous about preparing beetroot, here’s how easy it is…
Set your oven to gas mark 4 / 180c. Put your beetroot whole, unpeeled, in a dish and bake for an hour. If it’s a big beetroot you might want an extra 15 minutes. If a knife goes through and it feels soft, like a cooked new potato, it’s ready.
Let it cool, then peel just using your fingers – the skin should come off fairly easily. You can slice it into sandwiches (smoked salmon goes particularly well – very Scandi) or chop into cubes and add to pretty much anything – stew, salad, on top of baked potatoes with some butter beans and spring onions… the list goes on. Pink warning: add to the finished dish just before serving.
Roasted in chunks
Peel, then chop your raw beetroot into chunks. Put a little olive oil in a dish and add the beetroot. Season well and toss to coat. It’s a root vegetable, so cooking time is about the same as a raw carrot – it needs quite a while but not so long that it goes black. 40 minutes at gas mark 6 / 200c should do it. When it’s cooked, it’ll be soft to slice through.
I like to scatter the finished, slightly caramelised chunks on top of a meat or bean chilli. Or, on top of meatballs. To be honest, they are so good I eat them like sweeties, just as they are. Pink warning again: add to the finished dish just before serving.
This is by far my favourite way of using beetroot. Raw, it retains that deep earthy flavour, but adds an unexpected freshness that you don’t get if you cook it.
I love making a beetroot salsa: equal amounts of chopped fresh tomato and grated beetroot, two finely chopped spring onions, a sprinkling of chilli flakes, a glug of good olive oil and plenty of sea salt and black pepper. You can serve this with pretty much anything – a whole baked roast squash or pork chops – but I’m a fan of it particularly with oily fish as it cuts through with a burst of freshness, like the first snowdrops in Winter.
Pickle it? If you like!
I have to admit: I’m not a fan. I think it must be the knowledge that the majority of kitchen cupboards when I was growing up contained a jar of beetroot pickled in malt or white vinegar. It would appear on the side of a salad comprised of iceberg lettuce and sliced tomatoes, and no-one really liked it, even if they pretended to. Half of those jars are probably still there.
If you do like pickles, though, go ahead, knock yourself out. Roast your beetroot, peel and cut into small chunks, then let cool. Pop into sterilised jars and pour over your pickling liquid – white vinegar, sugar, salt and spices. Seal and leave to ‘pickle’ for two weeks.
The leaves aren’t just for the ducks
One last tip: if your beetroot comes with the leaves, don’t throw them away! They cook just like rainbow chard. Steam as a green veg and serve seasoned well and drizzled with olive oil or butter. Or, add them to stir-fries.
Pink with excitement?
Can’t wait to get growing or cooking some? Try this mix of different colour beetroot seeds for your garden. Here are some beetroot recipes from BBC Good Food. And you just know you want to try some beetroot brownies. Oh yes. (And your kids will never even know…).