This slow-roasting method draws the moisture out of the beetroot and concentrates its flavours beautifully, while a simple accompaniment of sour cream, natural yoghurt or crème fraîche adds a hint of acidity.
If you like your beetroot with real zip, by all means add lemon juice, lemon zest, horseradish, a little garlic, or whatever takes your fancy, to either the beetroot or the topping. But please, not Balsamic vinegar. It's far too strong a flavour for what is quite a subtle dish.
This looks festive if made in round pudding bowl, but you could use a non-stick loaf tin. If you're not confident about the beetroot coming out in one piece, line the bowl or tin with clingfilm.
Keep the dish at room temperature, if you can, and add the sour cream at the last minute. The first time I made this, I used yoghurt and put the leftovers in the fridge overnight. The next morning, the yoghurt topping had turned a fetching Barbie-pink colour.
Oven-Roasted Pressed Beetroot with Sour Cream
6 large beetroot
extra-virgin olive oil for sprinkling
a sprig each of fresh thyme and rosemary
two bay leaves
sea salt and milled black pepper
sour cream, or yoghurt, or crème fraîche
snipped fresh chives
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Trim the leafy tops off the beetroot, leaving 2 cm of stalk intact. Wipe the beetroot with a cloth, but don't wash them. Cut the beetroot in half. Put them on a double layer of foil, sprinkle with some olive oil and dust with salt and pepper. Place the bay leaves and the sprigs of rosemary and thyme on top. Close the parcel with a double pleat, place on a baking sheet and bake for two hours at 160°C. Now open the parcel by peeling back the foil. Turn the oven to its lowest setting - 50°C is ideal - and leave overnight, or until the beetroot are very tender and slightly shrunken (see picture below).
Remove the packet from the oven, discard the herbs and allow to cool.
Trim the beetroot of stalks and roots, slip off their skins, and cut into large cubes. Add more salt, if necessary, and pile the cubes into an oiled bowl just big enough to hold them all. Cover the surface with foil or clingfilm, and then with a saucer or lid that fits neatly into the bowl. (If you're using a loaf tin, cut out a piece of heavy cardboard of the right size and cover it with tin foil). Weigh down with something rather heavy - few stacked tins, or large stone or brick - and allow to stand at room temperature for at least eight hours, or overnight.
Peel off the foil, and, using a sharp knife, gently loosen the edges of the pressed beetroot. Place a large platter on top of the bowl and invert. Tap or shake the bowl to release. Top with a flurry of sour cream and snipped fresh chives.