During a regular catch-up at a café in Smalltown, as we waited for coffee, we looked down at our bags beside our feet on the floor, and we laughed at the contrast that was an unintended summary of our lives and personal histories.
Then, as we sipped coffee (one, a skinny latte; the other, black and strong) we shared stories of recent food and gardening successes, and came up with the idea for the Town and Country Frog Blog.
For lunch that day, we shared a platter of finger food which the menu described as being local produce. Brown Frog, of course, gave the meal a cook’s critique, finishing with an emphatic, “There should have been beetroot!” - because we live in a farming district that grows more beetroot than any other place in the Universe.
Beetroot has to be one of the most versatile root vegetables:
- Grated beetroot with a touch of orange zest;
- plain boiled beetroot sliced and sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper;
- wedges of char-grilled beetroot doused in caramelised vinegar;
- rounds of beetroot with rosemary and raw onion rings;
- baked beetroot; beetroot and chickpea puree for dipping…
Beetroot bold or beetroot simple. So cheap, so fresh...
…so ugly! I bought these big boys at a roadside stall on my way home from the café, to serve pan-fried with a dressing of finely chopped rosemary and vinegar.
FRESH BEETROOT for SALAD
Very, very easy.
Serves: 4 - 6 in combination with other salad vegetables
Cook ahead. Can be frozen.
Time: 5 minutes to prepare; 5 minutes cooking time
Equipment: Cutting board or large plate; frying pan
Home-cooked beetroot has an earthy, almost nutty flavour when fried or baked simply and quickly.
Ingredients: 2 large beetroot, tops removed
1. Scrub well (leave skin on) and cut into wedges (or slices, or sticks) with fat edge 1 cm thick. Beetroot will stain your cutting board so you may wish to use a large plate.
2. In a dry un-oiled pan, put the beetroot in a single layer, then place pan over moderate heat. Cover with a lid (or foil) and cook until just able to pierce with a fork, about 4 minutes. No need to turn the beetroot. Remove from heat and leave a further few minutes in pan to finish cooking. Sprinkle with salt if desired, and cool in the pan.
Or, PAN-CHARRED BEETROOT
Ingredients as above but cook on high heat and turn when the underside has caramelised, after about one minute. Brown the second side for a further minute; turn off the heat and place the lid on the pan. The wedges will continue to cook so don’t overdo them or they could be soft and boring. Sprinkle with salt and chopped fresh rosemary or parsley.
TALKING ABOUT BEETROOT… This spring and summer vegetable contains starch and sugars that convert to caramel when dry cooked in a pan or hot oven, and beetroot tastes like magic if charred quickly on a barbecue plate.
I never peel beetroot, just scrub well with a pot mitt or brush. (I don’t peel potatoes or carrots either, unless they are very old.) Cook beetroot as you would potato. Try beetroot chips on the barbecue, or oven-cooked. When roasting - beautiful with lamb or beef - cut into 2-3cm cubes and place in a separate pan to prevent colour running into other vegetables. (Adding salt before cooking also pulls juice and colour from the beetroot.) Remove from the oven when you can just push a sharp knife into the flesh. Lightly salt on the plate.
When buying beetroot for pan cooking, choose those that feel crisp. Like potatoes, whole unwashed beetroot will keep for weeks in cool storage but tend to soften as they age. Older beetroot are fine for boiling and pickling, and for soup.
If you are fortunate to grow your own or are able to buy freshly pulled beetroot with the leaves still on (looking like silverbeet or chard), use the root raw for grated salad as you would use a carrot; and leaf-stems can be steamed or stir fried. Use the green of young (smaller) leaves shredded - raw in salad like English spinach, or steamed lightly and served with soy or oyster sauce, or with a dash of balsamic vinegar.
I have never eaten enough beetroot to know if it will make you turn pink in the way excess carrot makes you orange, but I do know that the red colouring is excreted through the kidneys in the usual way!