Beetroot is perhaps the most outrageously delicious of the vegetables available from Irish soils this month or any. Recent near hysteria has replaced a childhood spent sticking my nose up at the some what intimidating deep purple orbs.
Much beetroot is to be found pre-cooked in jars or plastic on shop shelves – boiled to release all but enough flavour to let them taste stale and musty with age.
The root, when baked in its skin to keep in tact its flavour and colour, somehow tastes sweet and at the same of earth – flamboyant while direct.
Check for freshness by the perkiness of the leaves.
Chop some leeks and fry slowly in a pot, with olive oil and a little salt. Tie up some thyme, parsley stalks, bay and slivers of orange zest in string and pop in with the leeks. Peel and coarsely grate your beetroot and add to the pot. Stir over a medium heat for a couple of minutes and then add water – enough to cover and more. Season again to taste and simmer gently until all is tender – three quarters of an hour or so. Then leave to cool for a little, chuck out the aromatic bundle, and blend the soup, squeezing in some juice from the orange also. Serve the soup slightly cool garnished with a dollop of yogurt, the smallest green beet leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and some ground black pepper.
Beetroot, beet leaves, curly endive and almond
Wash the beetroot and put them into a baking dish with a centremetre of water, a little oil, salt and pepper. Cover with tin foil and pop in a hot oven. They will be ready when you can slit a knife through them with no resistance, it will take one to two hours. They’ll be easily peeled when still warm. When peeled cut them lengthwise half an inch thick.
Bake the almonds for a quarter of an hour in a medium oven.
Boil the beet leaves and mean while heat a pan. When the leaves are tender drain them, add some olive oil to the pan and then add the leaves, toss and add some sherry vinegar. Let the vinegar half reduce with the leaves and then take them of the heat.
Serve the beetroot flat down on each plate with the leaves on top, and on top of the root and leaves and the curly endive (frisee lettuce) lightly dressed and the whole baked almonds.
Beet leaves and curd
Beet leaves are presumably a sibling of summer’s chard, similarly magnificent in colour and flavour, and certainly well capable of standing on their own two feet. The leaves from one to two beets should be enough for this dish (you can use the roots for the leafless recipe below).
Infuse a little orange and lemon zest in some wine vinegar and then use to make a dressing with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Boil the beet leaves, when tender drain and dress and serve alongside a spoon full of goat or sheep’s curd.
Leeks, beetroot, butter and thyme
Bake the beet as above and then peel a cut into wedges. Pop quite a lot of butter in a pot with a drop of olive oil and plenty of sprigs of thyme. Let the butter melt and sizzle a little then take it off the heat and leave to infuse. Bake some hazelnuts as with the almonds, and then give them a rough crush.
When ready to serve boil the leeks (as a general rule the smaller the tastier) in salty water. As they are boiling heat a pan and add the beetroot wedges and then the thyme butter. Give them a toss over a fair heat and add a good squeeze of lemon juice, let it sizzle and then another toss and off the heat. Drain the leeks as soon as tender, cut in half lengthwise and lay straight on each plate. Spoon the buttery leeks over one half of the leeks, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the crushed hazelnuts and serve.