March can seem like a bit of an uphill struggle for those who like to eat seasonally. The promise of vibrant and fresh spring flavours is still months away and the dark, root produce of the winter seems to tire a little. If we’re really honest, we have all had our fill of cabbage and kale, as much as we might pretend otherwise. There is, however, so much to enjoy in March. It is one of the best months to buy fresh beetroot; the unique earthy flavour is rich, sweet and bright. It also it brings a very welcome shot of amazing scarlet colour to any dish you use it in. Right now, they are at every farmer’s market and greengrocers, but the supermarkets also stock it too. Look for bunches with perky leaves and small sized bulbs still scattered with earth. Whatever you do, do not throw away the leaves; they make the most incredible salad leaf.
You can also pick up wonderful beetroot from Chioggia, Italy which is striped like old fashioned pyjamas. There are also deep yellow, golden ones, which look stunning plated next to the red ones, but here, I stick to the traditional English crimson beetroot. The health benefits of eating it are numerous; packed with anti-oxidents and vitamins, it has also been proven to help lower blood pressure.
The beetroot is a divisive vegetable; a lot of people think they hate it because they can do nothing but shudder at the memory of the beetroot most of us were served at school; flaccid, vinegary discs which leaked red dye onto the rest of our plate. It’s no wonder that there needs to be a little persuasion done to tempt people into trying it again. As a nation, we need to experience the love that nations such as Russia and Scandinavia have for this bulb. If you are a hater, I do urge you to give beetroot another go because there is as much similarity between pickled and fresh beetroot as there is between a British summer strawberry and one imported from Holland in the depths of winter.
Beetroot is a robust vegetable; it is beautiful eaten cooked or raw and thinly sliced. It can stand up to strong flavours such as balsamic vinegar, smoked fish, horseradish and goat’s cheese. One way they work very well is in a winter tricolore salad; roasted, cooled and sliced thinly and served with milky mozzarella or burrata. Sprinkle with chopped beetroot leaves and a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.
Beetroot Risotto with Marinated Feta
This recipe celebrates the earthy, deep flavours of the beetroot and the combination with the salty creaminess of the feta is a marriage made in heaven. The injection of colour from this dish is enough to cheer anyone up as this British weather stubbornly refuses to turn to springlike warmth and sunshine! This is a good place to start the conversion of any beetroot-hater.
For the risotto
- 400g fresh beetroot, roasted
- 4 small shallots, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 250g risotto rice, preferably Carnaroli but Arborio is fine
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 100ml red wine (optional)
- 900ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
For the feta
- 200g feta (one packet)
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
Beetroot is very easy to cook, so there is no need to get it out of a packet. Simply chop the top off (saving the leaves for a salad), wrap in foil and bake in a medium oven (about 180). Cooking time will depend on the size of your vegetables, but after about an hour, pierce with a sharp knife. If the blade goes in smoothly, they are ready. If it sticks, pop them back into the oven for another 20 minutes. Apart from burning them, it’s almost impossible to overcook them.
While the beetroot is cooking, crumble the feta into a bowl, mix in the olive oil and thyme leaves and leave in a cool place for the flavours to infuse.
When the beetroot is ready, leave them to cool enough so you can handle them, then don some rubber gloves and the skins will just slip off. Roughly chop then blitz them in a blender or food processor until pureed. You may need to add a little of the stock to get it going.
Put your olive oil in a large pan, add your shallots, thyme sprigs and garlic and cook on a medium heat until softened. Add a little salt and this will stop the shallots colouring. Add your rice and stir for a moment with the shallot mixture, then turn up the heat and add the wine (if using). Stir until the wine has evaporated, then turn the heat down again and start to add the stock. Add one ladle at a time, stirring until it has absorbed before adding another one. Keep going until the rice is creamy, unctuous and soft, but still has a little bite. Before the last ladle, add the pureed beetroot and stir so the startlingly bright colour is even. Season to taste. Remove the thyme sprigs.
Serve into four warmed bowls and scatter the feta mixture on top. Finish with a few twists of freshly milled black pepper.
You can also get this recipe from the online version of The Richmond Magazine.