Saturday 23 November 2013

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach, Bacon & Ruby Grapefruit

A warm salad of slow-roasted beetroot with wilted spinach and crisped bacon bits, sprinkled with olive oil and flecks of ruby grapefruit.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon.

Golden beetroot is a hybrid popular these days among chefs and foodsters. I've tasted it a few times in restaurants, and it hasn't blown my skirt up. In each dish I've tried, this vegetable has been curiously tasteless, with none of the bloody metallic depth of ordinary red beetroot. (Then again, these dishes consisted of pretentious stacks, or were arrayed in wafer-thin raw slices and topped off with 'foam' or 'air'. )

However, the organic specimens in the picture above knocked my socks off with their glorious sunset colours and sweet, earthy flavours.

I bought these beauties in a loose bunch from my local Woolworths in Hout Bay. I was very pleased to see them on the supermarket shelf, because I've only ever come across them at farmers' markets. I also bought a bunch of regular beetroot, and hurried home to sling them in the oven.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
Open-roasting red and golden beetroot with a little olive oil and thyme.

Slow-roasting is the way to go with beetroot, I reckon. There is quite a lot of shrinkage, but this method brilliantly concentrates and intensifies their flavour.

I was planning to make a salad with fresh greens, but the rocket, watercress and lettuce loafing around in my fridge's veggie drawer didn't look perky. Instead, I wilted a big bunch of fresh Swiss chard in a pan, squeezed it dry, then arranged it on a plate along with some hot bacon bits (for smokiness and crunch) and a handful of dried cranberries (for sweetness). Then I doused everything with olive olive oil and a few dabs of good balsamic vinegar.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
A bunch of beautiful golden beetroot

Beads of blood-red ruby grapefruit are a final and pleasing finish to this salad. This is a flavour combination that wouldn't normally have occurred to me, but as it happened I'd just cut up a grapefruit on the same board I was using to slice the beetroot. What an astonishing mouth-surprise it was to taste bacon, beetroot and grapefruit together as I picked bits off my chopping board.

You can leave this out if you like, but I think you will be most intrigued by the exciting spark of the grapefruit.

If you can't find golden beetroot, feel confident using ordinary red beetroot in this recipe.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach, Bacon & Ruby Grapefruit

4 golden beetroot
4 red beetroot
4 Tbsp (60 ml) olive oil, for roasting
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and milled black pepper
2 large bunches of spinach or Swiss Chard
8 rashers streaky bacon
2 Tbsp (60 ml) dried cranberries [optional]
a ruby grapefuit

For the dressing: 

5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) good balsamic vinegar
salt and milled black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 190 ºC.  Trim the beetroot stalks so just 1 cm remains, then cut them in half lengthways. Place cut-side up in a roasting tray lined with baking paper.

Sprinkle with the olive oil and thyme sprigs, then season to taste with salt and pepper.  Roast, uncovered, for about two hours, or until the beetroot looks slightly shrunken and is very soft.

Remove the beetroot from the oven and set on the counter for 10 minutes, or until they are cool enough to handle with bare fingers. Trim off the stalks and any hairy roots. If you like, you can rub off the skins at this point, but I don't bother with that if I'm using young beets. Cut the beetroot into wedges.

Peel the grapefuit, remove two segments, peel off the membranes and pull these into very small pieces.  Set aside.

Twenty minutes before the beetroot finishes roasting, thoroughly rinse the spinach or Swiss chard, trim off any fibrous stalks and put it, still wet, into a large saucepan. Turn on a medium-high heat under the pot and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the leaves are soft and wilted.  Tip the leaves into a colander, let them drain for five minutes, then squeeze them between the palms of your hands to remove any excess moisture. Set aside.

While the spinach is cooling, cut the bacon rashers into a fine dice and fry them over a high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until crisp. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.

Arrange the warm spinach leaves in a circle on a platter and top them with the beetroot wedges.  Sprinkle over the cranberries, grapefruit flecks and hot bacon pieces.

Dribble a little olive oil over the salad, and pour the rest around its edges to form a golden puddle.  Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar over the top.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter. 

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
A good fruity olive oil and a few droplets of balsamic vinegar are
all that's necessary to dress this warm salad.

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Monday 18 November 2013

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary

Here's the first of my Christmas recipes for 2013: an easy flat-bread made with supermarket dough, cherry tomatoes, olives and caperberries. And for a funky festive finish, a snowstorm of edible glitter.  (Cake glitter is normally associated with cupcakes and other dreadful instances of kitchen juvenility, but even so I keep a stash of it in my baking drawer for strewing over savoury dishes, such as Home-Made Glitzers.)

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
I sketched this on my iPad while I was plotting Christmas recipes.

I hope this festive flatbread will draw gasps from your guests as you carry it triumphantly to the table. The hot bread smells gorgeous with its lashings of fresh garlic and olive oil, and looks so pretty all bedecked with rosemary and glitter. Even the fussiest kids will, I hope, show an interest.  Sure, they may pick out the pimento-stuffed olives and caperberries, but they'll wolf down the hot bread.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
This is so quick and easy to make if you use supermarket dough.

You can ring the changes by adding any ingredients you fancy: pork chipolatas, bacon bits, shaved vegetables, nuggets of feta, and so on.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
Puffed up and crusty, and studded with edible decorations.

If you can't find packets of fresh dough in your supermarket, make your own by using one kilogram of bread flour to one 10-gram sachet of instant dry yeast, plus a teaspoon of salt, another of olive oil, and just enough warm water to bind the mixture into a pliable dough.

 Knead it well, let it rise until doubled in size, punch it down in the usual fashion and continue with the recipe.  Here are good basic instructions for bread dough.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary

1 kg ready-made white or wholewheat bread dough
500 g cherry tomatoes (about 24)
16 pimento-stuffed green olives
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
12 caperberries, well drained [optional]
edible cake glitter

Heat the oven to 200 ºC.

Lightly dampen a large baking tray and cover with a sheet of baking paper.  The water on the baking tray will help the paper to stick.

Dust some flour over the top of the paper, then pull and push the dough into a rough tree-shaped triangle. You will find that the dough creeps back, but if you persist with pulling and stretching, you'll eventually have an acceptable shape.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
Use a pair of sharp scissors to snip the dough.
Using a pair of kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits in the dough to form the 'branches' of the tree.

Don't worry if these aren't perfectly symmetrical - the bread will do its own thing in the oven as it rises and crisps up, and there really is no point in faffing about when you should be relaxing on the lawn with with a gin and tonic.

Press the cherry tomatoes deep into the dough.  Cut the olives in half crossways and push them into the dough between the tomatoes. Strip the leaves off the rosemary sprigs and scatter them between the tomatoes and olives.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
A flurry of edible glitter goes over the bread as
it comes out of the oven. 
Now, using your fingertips, make deep dimples all over the bread.

Mix the olive oil and garlic together in a bowl and paint this all over the bread, using a pastry brush or your fingertips.

Generously scatter the bread with flaky salt, grind over plenty of fresh pepper and bake at 200 ºC for about 30 minutes, or until the bread is well risen, golden brown and crisp on top.

Remove the bread from the oven, let it cool for 5 minutes, then arrange the caperberries on top.

Trickle a little more olive oil over the top, and dust lavishly with cake glitter.

Serves 6-8 as a snack. 

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Monday 11 November 2013

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway may have eaten it

Darrel Bristow Bovey, columnist for South Africa's The Times newspaper, messaged me asking for advice about something called India Relish. I've never met Darrel, but I know him in a virtual way, having befriended him on Facebook when I saw him trading appalling puns with my best friend, novelist & punmeister Claire Robertson.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it.

His enquiry made my whiskers twitch. Had I heard of something called India Relish? Where could this be found in Cape Town? Darrel explained that he was planning to make 'Hemburgers' (hamburgers made to Ernest Hemingway's exacting standards) for 13 friends in a week's time, and that he was stumped by a reference in Hemingway's instructions to his cook Pablo, namely 'one heaping teaspoon, India Relish'.

Darrel was determined to create an authentic Hemburger experience, and he has written a most interesting and evocative column about how he combed Cape Town for the right ingredients. Read it here: For Whom The Burger Tolls.

As a collector of old recipes and a keen maker of chutneys and relishes, I couldn't resist the challenge of hunting down this formula.  One or two modern versions of the recipe popped up online, but I what I wanted was more information about the original India Relish. A search of the Google Books archive produced an advert in a 1939 issue of Life magazine, and an extract from a book detailing the history of the relish and some of its ingredients.  India Relish was first made by Albert Heinz in 1889, I learned, and is still produced by the Heinz corporation.

I could find only a few pictures of the modern version of India Relish, which all looked to me like jars of green slime. So figuring out the texture and consistency of this preserve was a real head-scratcher. Was it a thin, sour, pickly mixture, or a thick and chunky chutney?  I appealed to my American friends on Facebook, but not one of them had heard of (let alone tasted) the product.

The book extract indicated that the original Heinz recipe (a secret formula) was close to that of true Indian relishes, so I abandoned the idea of a watery pickle.  In the end, I made what I thought might taste the most authentic:  a cross between a sweet/sharp chutney and a piccalilli, with subtle spicing and plenty of crunch. I made up a batch, filled two bottles and threw one of them into the lavender bush outside Darrel's house.

Here is his verdict:

Isn't that a lovely response?

The recipe below is probably nothing like the modern Heinz offering. For one thing, it isn't green - I had to add a whisper of turmeric because it looked so pathetically pale in its pot.  I'm pretty sure today's Heinz India Relish is artifically stained, because unripe tomatoes and celery alone will not produce a deep green colour.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
A thick, glossy relish with plenty of crunch..

This is good with bread and cheese, and excellent with thick slices of ham. If you bottle it now, in sterilised jars, you can dish it up with your Christmas gammon.

In order to achieve a piccalilli-like crunch, I added a quarter of the vegetables close to the end of the cooking time.

This has just a small amount of heat, so feel free to add more chilli if you'd like to give it a kick in the pants.

Hemingway's India Relish 

8 large, very green tomatoes
4 sticks celery, well rinsed and trimmed
2 red peppers, seeds removed
2 medium onions, peeled
1 green chilli, deseeded
a small head of cauliflower, trimmed
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive or Canola oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) black mustard seeds
3 plump cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
1/3 cup (80 ml) flour
1½ cups (375 ml) cider vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white wine vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered ginger
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) allspice
6 large gherkins, cut into little cubes
the juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Core the green tomatoes, cut them in half and scoop out the pulp using a teaspoon. Set the pulp to one side. Cut the tomatoes, celery and red peppers into a small, neat dice. Thinly slice the onions and cut the chilli into very fine shreds.  Break off the cauliflower florets and cut into small pieces.

Heat the oil and mustard seeds in a pan over a medium-high heat.  When the seeds begin to crackle, turn the heat right down and add the grated garlic and ginger.  Fry over a low heat for a minute, then tip in the flour and stir very well to make a thick paste.

Whisk in one cup of cider vinegar, a little at a time, as if you are making a roux, and beat energetically to break up any floury lumps. When the mixture thickens alarmingly, whisk in the remaining cider vinegar, the white wine vinegar and the sugar.

Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. Now add three-quarters of the vegetables, the powdered ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and allspice.

Turn up the heat so the mixture cooks at an enthusiastic bubble. Keep stirring and scraping, or it might stick to the bottom of the pan.  After about 25 minutes, when the relish has reduced by about half and is looking thick and glossy, add the chopped gherkins, lemon juice, remaining vegetables and reserved  tomato pulp. Season generously with salt and pepper, and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

To check whether the chutney is ready, put a dollop onto a chilled saucer and leave for a minute. Draw your finger across the puddle: if the channel you've made closes very reluctantly, the relish is ready to bottle. If it's still too thin, continue simmering until it passes the channel test.

Spoon the chutney into hot sterilised bottles or jars (see Cook's Notes) and screw on the lids. Let the bottles cool for an hour, then tighten the lids again.

Makes 2 jars.

Cook's Notes: 
  • There are several ways to sterilise jars for bottling pickles and chutneys. I find microwave sterilising the easiest.  Place two or three jars in a circle on the glass turntable, fill each one with 3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, and cook on high for five minutes. Boil the metal lids in a small saucepan for 5 minutes. Then drain the jars and lids, upside down, on kitchen paper or newspaper.  Both the jars and the relish should be very hot during the filling process.
  • When you're making relishes that are acidic, it's important to use a jar that has a plastic-lined lid, or the vinegar in the mixture may react with the metal in the lid.  

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