Fresh beetroot – what a treat!
Beets are fat sweet roots such as sugar beet, and I’d always assumed the word beetroot was tautologous – “so rooty they named it twice”, but not at all. The “Root” in “beetroot” is from the German for “red”, brought here by the Saxons, bless ’em. So “beetroot” means “red beet” and the pun is unintentional. Incidentally, the dark purple colour is persistent in its path through the system which can be alarming, but don’t panic.
This is the time of year to find bunches of beetroot, but only if you still have access to a good greengrocer. My local Morrissons had bunches of beetroot for £1.35 this week, but when I went into Sainsburys and asked for fresh beetroot they pointed helplessly at the cooked stuff sold in plastic packets. Tescos online only sells it pickled or cooked. Waitrose have a lot of recipes for fresh beetroot, so it’s likely that they’ll sell it. Farmaround are putting it in some of their veggie boxes this month, which is how I got mine. (Let me pause for a moment to put in an unsolicited plug for Farmaround if you live in London or Yorkshire – they are one of the reasons I don’t want to move).
Once you’ve got hold of your beetroot, you are in for a variety of treats. This time of year I make red coleslaw, with beetroot, red cabbage, and even red onion, instead of boring old carrots and white cabbage. Beetroot also roasts beautifully, whole or quartered, drizzled with oil and put into a hot oven at gas mark 6 or so for an hour or an hour and a half; and balsamic or some other arty vinegar really brings out the sweetness. A friend gave me a recipe for beetroot fudge cake, like carrot cake but beetrootier. But beetroot is so hard to find, and such a treat when you do find it, that I am always seduced by serving it boiled and smothered in white sauce. It tastes gorgeous and looks splendid.
I cannot believe I am about to blog a recipe, but needs must when NaBloPoMo drives.
Beetroot in white sauce
Beetroot bleeds spectacularly, so you want to have as little cut surface in the water as possible. This is why you have to boil them whole. Leave half an inch of stalk when you trim the leaves and leave half an inch of the root when you trim that. Wash them carefully to dislodge the mud but avoid breaking the skin.
Beetroot takes a long time to boil – 45 minutes or an hour. This is partly because they are big beasties, and partly because we are so used to it being cooked to death by the supermarkets that we expect it to be mushier than, for example, carrots. You may prefer it crisper, but I wouldn’t cook it any less than three quarters of an hour, myself.
I assume you know how to make white sauce and if you need a reminder then there are more than enough recipes out there. Nutmeg’s nice on top of a white sauce made for beetroot. Or lemon pepper.
You can serve the beetroot whole, or quarter or slice them before serving, it depends on how good you are at cutting up hot food and how much you mind having purple fingers. Either way, put it in a dish and smother it with the white sauce, some of which will go a beautiful dark pink.
If you don’t normally eat just vegetables for lunch, then it would be nice with gammon and broad beans, but I get so over-excited about the beetroot that I don’t bother cooking anything else.
Do make the effort to find it. It’s not in season very long.