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The Market CHEFS - Beetroot

The Market CHEFS - Beetroot

For many of us shopping for fresh produce at market is one of the pleasures of French life. Wayne Milstead  and Aaron Tighe are both foodies and market fans - here the discuss the delights of beetroot.... 

 How many more times and in how many more forms can we rediscover the beetroot? Pickled? Roasted? Shaved raw over a salad?

There was a time when no self-respecting goat’s cheese salad would be seen without a sparkling band of beetroot, dangling like rubies around the collar of its plate.

beetroot-recipes-poitou-charentesThe various incarnations and ways of eating this tough, knobbly, hand-staining veg chart a timeline of man’s culinary struggles. It traces its roots back to the wild sea beet which grows on coastlines. Used medicinally by the ancient Greeks and Romans its roots were more carrot-shaped until the Europeans started cultivating it in the 16th century, resulting in the fat red tear-shaped variety we see today. Because its thick woody flesh prevents one from slicing into it like a tomato, the beetroot often falls victim to cooking and preserving methods that seem too troublesome or that mask its naturally sweet, nutty flavour in overpowering vinegar and oil.  It has a proclivity for domination. Its juices stain everything; its robust flavour vanquishes the subtle.

So why do we bother? For one thing, as mother would say, it’s good for us. It boasts an amazing amount of anti-oxidants as well as betaine (essential for the old cardiovascular), vitamin C and other key nutrients. Its quality and abundance at the French farmer’s market means its good value and fresh, and used correctly, it tastes brilliant. If nothing else, you can always juice them. A recent flying visit to London revealed the urban chic quaffing the crimson super-food under the steel girders of Borough Market by the chalice-full.

But before you go out and buy a juicer and protective clothing, consider the possibilities. Beetroot is best when it features in dishes with complimentary flavours, rather than those that try to tame or mask its nuttiness. Roast them and drizzle with walnut oil for example. The edible greens should be sautéed with a little olive and garlic. Or try our risotto recipe. It lets the colour and flavour shine through to a delicious result.
When buying, always look for small (under 6 cm) specimens with a smooth, firm and undamaged surface. Also, be on the look-out for the golden-coloured varieties that have started to appear at French markets. Similar flavour and a gorgeous orange shade.



SERVES FOURbeetroot risotto

90g unsalted butter

2 shallots or 1 medium onion, finely chopped

240g raw beetroot, one medium or two small ones

240g arborio or canaroli rice

60ml dry white wine or Vermouth

Generous litre of vegetable stock, warmed and kept simmering

3 tablespoons finely snipped chives

3 tablespoons chopped mint

Grated zest of half a lime

100g Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for the table, freshly grated

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Clean the raw beet(s) under running water. The greens, if present, can be cut to within an inch of the beet, but leave the roots intact (cut beetroot will bleed).

Toss in a little olive oil, wrap the beetroot in kitchen foil and roast for 45 minutes in a preheated oven 190°C. Leave to cool.

Peel the beetroot and chop it into fine dice.

Take a heavy bottomed pot, melt a third of the butter in it and gently sauté the shallots\onion until soft but not coloured.

Add the beetroot and cook for two minutes.

Add the rice, stir thoroughly until it is well coated and beginning to crackle.

Pour over the wine or vermouth and allow it to evaporate.

Add a ladleful of the simmering stock and gently stir until it has been absorbed.

Continue to add the stock, like this, until the rice reaches a porridge-like consistency, but is still firm to the bite, about 17-18 minutes. Should you run out of stock top up with boiling water.

Remove the risotto pan from the heat and season to taste.

Gently stir in the remaining 2⁄3 of butter, the herbs, and the freshly grated cheese.

Cover and leave to rest for up to five minutes ‘mantecare’ [in Italian this means to mingle the flavours].

Check seasoning and serve with extra cheese.

Wayne and Aaron run Circle of Misse cookery school in the Deux-Sèvres.