Carrot ice cream, beetroot and chocolate cake, chocolate and spinach brownies - Jenni Muir explores some of the weird, wonderful and actually quite traditional recipes that are making a comeback online...
In the past week I've enjoyed two dishes pairing carrots and ice cream, and only one of them was a dessert.
At the WinePress restaurant at Donnington Valley hotel, chef Kelvin Johnson was serving a carrot cake topped with a light carrot ice cream. Nice idea. Then down in St Helier, Jersey, Shaun Rankin of the Michelin-starred restaurant and bar Bohemia was offering carrot jelly with a rich, dense goat cheese ice cream - this one was a starter, accompanied by a carrot and tomato salad and, for crunch, a piece of spaghetti coated with sugar and spice. The combination was not as loony as it sounds, certainly not if you like carrot juice. And I'd happily have that goat cheese ice cream again.
We've all heard of carrot cake, of course, but with the campaign to get everyone eating at least five portions of vegetables a day, it's good to see British chefs using them in unexpected ways. Sweetcorn ice cream has a gentle, not-quite-vanilla flavour that's lovely with red fruits and chocolate. In fact fresh sweetcorn is so naturally milky that I'm surprised someone doesn't Tetra-pak it to sell as an alternative to cow's and soya milk.
Root vegetables such as parsnips were one of the main forms of sweetener in medieval Europe, before the use of sugar became widespread, and there are some terrific recipes like this Parsnip Dark Spice Cake recipe that hark back to those days.
Then there's the more contemporary chocolate and beetroot cake, chocolate and zucchini (courgette), and as I've just discovered, carrot and spinach brownies (a step too far? Perhaps not if you've ever had the Italian dish of chocolate and aubergine). With so many chocolate and beetroot cake recipes on the internet now, it would be good to hear if anyone has any particular favourite. Surely it's not just allotment holders who have an enthusiasm for these recipes?
Still, I remember interviewing Eamonn Sweeney of the Blackbird bakeries in Herne Hill and Gypsy Hill last year and asking him about his parsnip cake, which I couldn't see on the shelves. Having worked for years on Martha's Vineyard, he knew how delicious and popular this and the likes of pumpkin and cream cheese muffins were...over there. In south London, he said, he'd often put samples out for tasting to get customers to try it. They all said it was utterly delicious and amazing. Then they'd buy a piece of chocolate cake.