Good Food Blog
The root of the matterPosted at 11:47AM, 29 September 2008 by Toby Travis - Food blogger
Beetroot usually has little more than a walk-on part in our kitchen. Essex Girl is ambivalent, tolerating them wedged between thick slices of white bread with hunks of cheddar. I prefer them wrapped in foil and roasted slowly in the oven, then slathered in butter - sweet and rich, but not exactly fast food for the busy urbanite.
Perhaps the failure of beetroot to win a place in the British culinary imagination is that we prefer our vegetables not to bleed all over the kitchen. Even slicing the stalks off can result in geysers of purple fluid spurting over the tiles. It's all more Hannibal Lecter than Jamie O. Most of us have also forgotten the traditional belief that beetroot is an aphrodisiac, the oyster of the vegetable world.
Yet beetroots are a regular, all-season visitor in our veg box, and we've gradually come to appreciate their diverse charms. There's no doubt they look at their most alluring tied up in a bunch with the voluminous leaves still attached. A fresh spray of beetroot tops is a very handsome sight. It always seems a shame to just lop them off and bung them in the bin. For some reason the livid purple stalks against the bright green foliage puts me in mind of the Incredible Hulk's bulging biceps.
Even slicing the stalks off can result in geysers of purple fluid spurting over the tiles. It's all more Hannibal Lecter than Jamie O.
This week the plumage looked particularly pert so I decided to investigate the culinary potential of the beetroot top. After some searching I discovered a Marcella Hazan recipe for a beetroot leaf salad, in which the stalks and leaves are separated, boiled until tender and dressed with just olive oil, salt and a little lemon juice. I complicated the puritan simplicity of this dish with a hard-boiled egg and a few scrapings of parmesan.
When cooked, the leaves and stalks resembled young Ruby chard in texture, appearance and flavour. Its earthy, unrefined character made it a suitably heartening lunch for a cool, wet Monday in September. I imagine the leaves would also work well in a pie with sausage, or sauteed in butter and added to an omelette. Like the root itself, beetroot tops seem to have a natural affinity with eggs and cheese.
Perhaps now Fergus Henderson has popularised the concept of nose-to-tail eating in respect to meat, it's time to push a root-to-leaf approach to vegetable cookery? Does anyone have any suggestions for usually discarded parts of vegetables which are actually good to eat?