Beetroot

Brownies with cheeky beetroot

brownies with hidden beetroot copy 2

I’m still on a mission to use up copious amounts of home grown beetroot.

I have a fridge shelf dedicated to jars of pickled beetroot and a whole freezer full. I was running out of ideas and then I did what I always do when I’ve run out of ideas – I stick vegetables into cake.

I have experimented with  lots of vegetable cakes in the past – carrot cake (dull), courgette cake (not bad), even a parsnip cake (a bit wacky and actually not very nice). And the first time I made a chocolate beetroot cake was the day before I gave birth to my daughter. My mind was clearly on other things because I forgot the sugar.

I did attempt the beetroot/chocolate combination again with these brownies (writing in the margins, in giant letters, ‘DON’T FORGET THE SUGAR’). They are very nice and the beetroot can hardly be detected – it just adds a moist earthy sweetness. Although my daughter (who has astute taste buds) declared them ‘delicious’ and then asked what the “little bits that tasted of soil” were.

These are good brownies to make for friends with nut allergies, or for small children (like my son) who don’t like nuts or, for that matter, beetroot. He ate them perfectly happily until my tell-tale daughter revealed the cheeky ingredient.

Chocolate and beetroot brownies

(Based on the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday)

Makes 16-20

  • 250g butter roughly cut into small cubes
  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 250g of cooked beetroot, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g of self-raising wholemeal flour (or plain wholemeal flour with 1 teaspoon of baking powder)
  • A pinch of salt

To cook the beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible. Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (this is the time for medium sized beetroot). The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and grate. You can also boil the beetroot until tender (about 20-30 minutes) if you prefer.

Preheat your oven to 180oC. Line and grease a 23 x 33 cm baking tin with baking parchment so that it goes all the way up the sides.

Put the butter and chocolate into a heat proof bowl and melt in short 10 second bursts in the microwave, stirring after each until smooth. Or you can do this in the more traditional way over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar and then add the melted chocolate and butter. Mix well and then lightly fold in the flour and salt with a metal spoon. Finally add the beetroot and stir to incorporate but don’t over mix.

Pour the mixture into the baking tray and spread evenly.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is set but the middle still has a very slight wobble.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

For me these are best served warm and it is fine to reheat them in the microwave for a few seconds.

They are great served with ice cream or mascarpone.

Roasted beetroot with cumin, lime and mint dressing

beetroot salad

We have beetroot coming out of our ears. This is great news, but after using it in all our best-loved beetroot dishes (borscht, Russian salad, my husband’s legendary pink risotto) we are running out of ideas. So this week I’ve been experimenting with dressings for cold, roasted beetroot so that we can have it on its own for lunch, or on the side with any old meal.

So far this is my favourite. The flavours of cumin and lime are fantastic with the sweet beetroot.

Roasted beetroot with a cumin, lime and mint dressing

  • 4 large beetroot

Dressing

  • 1/2 a teaspoon of cumin seeds (don’t be tempted to cheat and use powdered cumin – it’s just not the same)
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 tablespoon of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of good quality olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • A table spoon of fresh mint leaves, chopped

For the roast beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible.

Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and chop into small chunks or thin slices.

For the dressing, first dry fry the cumin seeds in a small frying pan, without oil, over a high heat for about 30 seconds until brown and fragrant. Crush in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of coarse sea salt.

Add this mix to the other ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together. Spoon over the roasted beetroot and serve.

NOTE: This beetroot salad goes really well with brown rice and flaked hot smoked salmon.

Russian salad

russian-salad 3

The jury’s out when it comes to the ‘Russianness’ of this salad. Some say that it’s actually Italian and should be called ‘insalata russa’. All I can say in its defence is that I ate it a lot when travelling across Russia. It was a staple in railway buffet cars and one star hotels where I suspect it was made with tinned vegetables but I still found it tasty enough to attempt to recreate the dish at home.

This salad wouldn’t be considered a looker (unless you’re a three year old girl with a Disney Princess/colour pink obsession) but it is still delicious considering how easy it is to put together (although perhaps this is just because anything smothered in mayonnaise tastes good).

It’s also a great way to disguise lots of vegetables (although my four year old son, who prefers blue, is rather suspicious of the colour).

Russian salad

Serves two (as a hearty starter, or as a main course with bread on the side)

  • 1 medium beetroot, cooked (see below) or pickled
  • 2 medium waxy potatoes, I used Charlotte potatoes
  • 50g of fresh or frozen peas
  • 50g of carrots
  • 50g of green beans
  • 1 pickled gherkin
  • 2 hard boiled eggs (or, I like to use one pickled beetroot egg – see my post Things in jars – pickling and pesto – and one hard boiled)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of mayonnaise
  • Some chopped fresh dill (if this is easily available, don’t use dried)

If your beetroot is raw then roast it in the oven (whole with the skin on) in a baking dish covered with foil at 160oC for one hour. Leave to cool then top and tail, peel off the skin and chop into small cubes. If you’re using pickled beetroot then just drain and chop into small cubes.

Peel and chop the potatoes into quarters then boil for 5-7 minutes until tender. Drain, leave to cool and chop into small cubes.

Chop the carrots into small cubes, slice the beans thinly then blanch all of these with the peas in boiling water for one minute. Drain and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process, drain again and set aside.

Chop the gherkins into small cubes.

Cook the eggs in a pan of boiling water for 8 minutes. Cool in a pan of cold water, peel off the shell and chop into quarters.

To assemble, mix all the prepared ingredients together with the mayonnaise (leaving some of the chopped egg as a garnish) and put into small bowls or glasses. Garnish with the chopped egg and fresh dill.

If you want to work the presentation a little, then mix everything except the beetroot together and spoon two thirds of the mix into glasses. Then spoon over two thirds of the beetroot. Finally mix the beetroot with the remaining potato mixture and spoon this on top. You will then have distinctive, white, red and pink layers which I think looks a little more pleasing than all pink.

Things in jars – pickling and pesto

It’s that season down at the allotment when all the hard work pays off and everything seems to be ready to eat all at once. It’s both a joy and a bit of a stress. Because I just hate waste I fret about trying to use up everything but sometimes there just don’t seem to be enough meal times in the day and I’m already bombarding my friends and relatives with hand-outs. This is where pickling and preserving comes in.

Pickled Beetroot and Eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

My friend ‘Little Ben’ first introduced me to pickled eggs at the end of a drunken night out in Nottingham and I have to admit I was not a fan. These pickled beetroot eggs however are truly delicious. The beetroot makes them lovely and sweet and the pinky colour of the eggs is just wonderful. I like to eat them on their own, sliced in half with a blob of mayonnaise and salt and pepper. They are also really good cut up in a Russian style salad with their pickled beetroot neighbours.

  • Cooked beetroot skinned and chopped into chunks (I cut medium sized beetroot into quarters). To cook I scrub the beetroot gently and roast them in their skins in a foil envelope  for an hour at 160oC fan.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • About 250ml of red wine vinegar (it’s difficult to be exact here as you will need enough to cover the contents of the jar and this will depend on how tightly packed in things are
  • A teaspoon of sugar
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • About 6 peppercorns mixed white and black

Sterilise a big jar (750ml mayonnaise ones are good) then cram in the cooked beetroot and the eggs layering the two throughout the jar.

I put the vinegar, sugar, bay leaves and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. When the mixture is piping hot and the sugar has dissolved I tip the vinegar into the jars until the eggs and beetroot are completely immersed. I then pop on the lids of the jars and leave to cool. Leave the jars for at least a couple of weeks in the fridge before using.

Basil Pesto

Brilliant basil...

Brilliant basil.

  • Fresh basil leaves (stems removed)
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • A little lemon juice
  • Salt

Pesto is so easy to make but it’s difficult to give exact quantities for this recipe as it will depend on how much basil you have available at the time and it’s quality. Once you’ve whizzed up the basil leaves in a food processor with a good glug of olive oil to help things along (I have one of those mini choppers like this one http://www.cuisinart.co.uk/mini-processor.html which works well) you just need to add the other ingredients a little at a time until you have the right balance. If you’re basil leaves are a bit long in the tooth then you will need to use quite a lot of olive oil. You will also need a lot more basil than you may think. One shop bought basil plant will only make the tiniest jar of pesto so it really is best to grow your own. I drive my family mad by growing plants on every window sill in the house as well as in huge tubs in the allotment greenhouse.

Keep your pesto in a sterilised jar in the fridge with a fine layer of olive oil on the top to stop it from turning brown. I’ve never actually managed to keep any long enough for it to go off in the fridge but it should keep for at least a month or two.

I always add parmesan cheese to the pesto before tossing with pasta but I find that if you jar it with the parmesan added then it impairs the flavour.

A Lovage version

A couple of years ago we bought a small lovage plant from our local garden centre in a 4 for 3 offer on herbs. We didn’t have a clue what it was at the time or how it could be used. Lovage is said to be similar to celery in flavour but personally I think the taste is unique and I absolutely love it. The plant has grown to over a metre high and takes centre stage in our herb bed. Because it is so plentiful in the early part of the year when the basil on the window sills and in the green house is only just germinating we thought we’d try a pesto made with lovage instead of basil with the same additional ingredients as above.  You will probably need a bit more olive oil than for a basil version and it’s a very strong flavour but used sparingly and mixed into pasta with plenty of parmesan it is delicious.

Lovely lovage

Lovely lovage