Beetroots are known for making a mark. Ollie looks at at how this colourful vegetable has been in the news over the summer’s Olympics, but also shows there’s a big place for this dramatic vegetable in the autumn. Discover how it’s not just a punchy ingredient for salads but can also be celebrated in sorbets and cakes
Beetroots are known for making a mark. They bring a sense of drama to any plate and they have been big this summer. David Weir, one of the legends of this summer’s Olympics, famously drank it to give him a boost when he was flagging. There has been extensive research into this and it has been shown that the nitrates in the vegetable boost stamina and make muscles more efficient – if only Lance Armstrong had chosen this approach. There is even a sports drink named Beet-IT that contains 90% beetroot juice and 10% apple juice, apparently to smooth out any earthy tastes within the beetroot. However, at Great British Chefs, while hugely excited by the warm glow generated by this summer’s Olympics, we are more motivated by flavours and creativity in the cooking field. Our beetroot hero of the summer was Christoffer Hruskova who provided us with a beetroot sorbet that truly is a thing of beauty.
There are of course many types of beetroot, with Bull’s Blood, a variety with extremely dark leaves from the 18th century, being perhaps the most aptly named. But as the adventurous vegetable shopper will know, there are varieties that have red and white rings (Chioggia Barbietola), orangey ones (Burpees Golden) and the more pedestrian white ones (Blankomana). Simon Hultsone’s Golden Beetroot salad was another hero of summer 2012, as it graced the plates of British Airways’ business class plates.
One of the most exiting things about cooking with beetroot, beyond its flamboyant colour, is the variety of ways in which it can be used. This weekend, I took part in an annual baking challenge called ‘Cakeaplooza’ started by friends Si and Raf, who’ve recently moved to Australia. We all decided to keep the tradition alive and via Facebook the competition took place in London, Sydney and New York. I’ve learned over the three years that the competition has been running, that one needs to stand out from the crowd, and that often means not baking with chocolate. This year there was also an Obama category which proved too much of draw for people to ignore:
I decided that the answer for ‘Cakeaplooza’ 2012 was a beetroot cake. I have made Nigel Slater’s “extremely moist chocolate beetroot cake” before but felt I needed something that ignored chocolate all together. I found a recipe in Anna Hansen’s The Modern Pantry, a cookbook that is getting a lot of attention in our house at the moment. While the cake didn’t win, it came second (to Amy’s fantastic apple and almond cake). It packs a punch with lots of Autumnal flavours which will have you yearning for some of Adam Gray’s mulled wine. The recipe is as follows:
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground star anise (the recipe asks for 1 ½ but I think this is too much)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
150 soft brown sugar
125ml vegetable oil
Zest of 1 orange
135g beetroot, grated
Grapes roasted in pomegranate Molasses
60g Roasted pecan nuts
Lemon drizzle (lemon juice and icing sugar)
Preparing the ingredients:
1. Start by making the grapes – place about 100g of grapes in an oven proof dish with sugar, a little white wine and molasses. Cook until they are collapsing and allow to cool.
2. Grate the beetroot
3. Roast the pecans until they give off a nice nutty smell
4. Zest the orange
Making the cake
1. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground cinnamon and star anise into a bowl.
2. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and orange zest. Stir in the grated beetroot, roast grapes and toasted pecans.
3. Fold in the dry ingredients and place in a buttered cake tin
4. Bake in a pre-heated 160 degrees oven for 35 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean)
5. Allow to cool and cover with lemon drizzle