Tag Archives: beetroot

Bridging the Hungry Gap

27 Mar

Springtime, and the living is easy. As easy as it gets in London, anyway. The sun is shining, the mercury’s in the very high teens (mid-to-high sixties for my American compadres), and my coat and boots are shoved deep in my closet for their long summer sleep. I’m even writing this on my sunny terrace whilst barefoot. To say that it doesn’t get much better can’t encompass the sense of intense wellbeing that currently permeates both this city and me. But one thing niggles at my contentment: the hungry gap.

For those of you blessed with produce aisles bearing strong resemblance to the Garden of Eden, and who therefore are blissfully unaware of this phenomenon, the hungry gap is the period of time (generally March and April) when British fields are entirely unfruitful. The last of the root vegetables and brassicas have straggled in, and the tender, pale green joys that are asparagus, peas, and broad beans won’t appear for a while yet.

So whilst every other indicator screams for us to cast away our woolly garments and frolic in the daffodils under a gently warming sun, the farmer’s market bogs us down with more heavy, wintery food. Don’t get me wrong, my love for humble stew is nearly boundless. But after six months of dietary hibernation, I want to dive into an enormous bowl of salad like Daffy Duck wants to dive into a mound of treasure, screaming, “I’m rich! I’m wealthy! I’m comfortably well off! WOOHOO!”

At first thought a warm orzo salad with beetroot and feta doesn’t merit quite the same enthusiasm as a mound of gold coins and gems, but look at the jewel-like colours on this baby:

No, your eyes do not deceive you; that pasta is SCARLET. You perform this magic cooking the orzo in the same water in which you boil the beets. The beets won’t have the same caramelly flavour they get from roasting, but I think that’s a worthwhile sacrifice to get the pasta to turn spectacular colours.

Overall, the result is a well-balanced mix of flavours: earthy-sweet beetroot, salty feta, savoury pinenuts, onion and garlic, bitter greens. Its feet are firmly planted in winter, but its lightness makes it perfect for a warm, lazy March day.

Check out the recipe, originally by The Parsley Thief, on Food52.

Stilton, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like Cheese

1 Mar

I’d like to think that I’m the opposite of picky. I’ll try anything once, no matter how unusual, thanks to parents who insisted that I couldn’t know if I disliked something without tasting it first. But while I’ve acquired most adult tastes, I have one prejudice left over from childhood: I don’t like unmelted cheese. Not much makes my heart sink more than the sight of a fistful of shredded cheese on top of a cold sandwich or a salad. I know the taste is innocuous compared so many other edibles in the world, but I just can’t handle it.

My few exceptions to this rule are of a strong-flavoured sort, and Number One is the smelly, craggy magnificence that is Stilton. Whether it’s tossed into spinach salad with apples and walnuts, piled onto crusty bread, or just in crumbles on the cutting board, I am an equal-opportunity consumer of the blue stuff. I just can’t get enough of its pungent umami punch.

Last week I found a new way of using Stilton: in a stew. In this particular concoction, the cheese rounds out the earthy sweetness of the beetroot and red wine and brings out the meatiness of the beef. With some crusty bread and a green salad, it’s a wonderful meal for an early-spring evening when winter hasn’t entirely loosened its hold.

Beef Stew with Beetroot and Stilton (adapted from Alan Rosenthal’s Stewed!)

Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons sunflower oil
750g/1.75lbs chuck steak, cut into 3-4cm/1.5 inch pieces
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
250ml/1 generous cup good red wine
250ml/1 generous cup beef stock
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
400g tin/14 oz can chopped/diced tomatoes
350g/12 oz raw beetroot (approx. 4 beets), peeled and cut into 2cm/1-inch pieces
salt and pepper
150g/5 oz Stilton, rind trimmed off and the rest crumbled

Preheat the oven to 140C/280F. Warm the oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. When hot, add the meat (in two batches if your pan can’t hold all the meat in one layer) and brown it all over for 3-4 minutes. Remove the meat from the pot and leave aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot, then put in the onions, celery, garlic, bay leaves, and caraway seeds. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and sauté everything gently until the onion softens and starts to turn translucent, around ten minutes.

Pour in the red wine, stock, vinegar, and tomatoes and turn the heat back up to high. Be sure to scrape your spoon against the bottom of the pot to deglaze the tasty brown bits. Once everything is simmering, put in the beetroot and the beef and some salt and pepper, then put the lid on and pop into the oven for 2.5-3 hours.

When you’re about to serve, stir two-thirds of the crumbled Stilton into the stew. Ladle the stew into bowls, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.