Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Salad of Beetroot & Goats Milk Cheese

Salad of beetroot and
goats milk cheese

The vegetable of the moment on the allotment is beetroot, though closely followed by the courgette which could do with a bit more sun.   I usually grow Burpees Golden beetroot and a pink and white striped Chioggia which always do well right through summer into autumn.  They grow away with little attention, taste great and look good on the plate.  Pronto is a good purple variety which isn't prone to bolting and, when young, also provides a useable leaf for salads. 

Beetroot can be eaten raw, grated into salads, but that's a little too worthy for me.  When cooked it has a wonderfully earthy, yet sweet flavour which, if handled sensitively, should bear no resemblance to those jars of pickled supermarket beetroot.  The texture of beetroot is dense so it needs to either be boiled for 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on size) or wrapped in foil and baked in a medium oven for at least 1 hour.  Simply wash off any soil, leave 2-3cm of leaf top and the tails on to stop the colour bleeding out before cooking.  They are cooked when the skin comes away with a little finger pressure.  When cooked, skin them, cut into quarters, or more, and dress with your chosen acidic liquid whist still warm.  Sometimes you can buy wood-roasted beetroot to save you time.

Yes, I know, everyone has a recipe for a salad of beetroot and goats milk cheese, so what's so special about this one.  Well, apart from the variety of beetroot and the particular cheese - perfect partners are an easy to buy Crottin, some Ticklemore or an Innes log - it's down to that acid liquor.  Rather than reach for the wine vinegar bottle I've found that the subtle qualities of Verjus provide that essential acid note whilst bringing out the natural sweetness of the beetroot beautifully. 

Verjus (green juice) has been used in cooking since Medieval times and is the result of pressing unripe grapes, or other sour fruits, and fermenting the juice.  Its virtue is that it's milder than vinegar or wine and doesn't fight with whatever wine is being drunk with the dish you're eating.  Aubert & Mascoli, who sell French and Italian wines, have a delicious additive-free Périgord Verjus.  It's good in marinades, for de-glazing or even added to a glass of warm water for a cleansing morning drink.  You can buy it in London from their shop in Dean Street, Soho or most Saturdays at Arch 55 Stanworth Street SE1.  They also deliver anywhere within mainland UK.  Aubert & Mascoli have an impressive pedigree and all their French and Italian wines are either natural, organic, biodynamic or grown sustainably.  Or try your local wine shop for a bottle of Verjus.

Beetroot is, apparently, a "super food".  Whether it is or not, this recipe makes a delicious lunch.

Salad of beetroot and goats milk cheese
(Serves 4)

8 small or 6 medium sized beetroots
2 tablespoons of verjus (or white wine vinegar)
2 Crottins or similar (the goats milk cheeses Ticklemore and Innes work particularly well)
3-4 handfuls of rocket or a mix of leaves (a few baby beet leaves in the mix is good)
2-3 handfuls of of shelled walnuts

1 tablespoon of verjus (or white wine vinegar)
A twist of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of runny honey
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Wash the beetroot and trim the tops to 2-3 cms.  Either wrap in foil and bake in the oven at 200C for about 1 hour, or boil for 30-45 minutes.  Allow to cool until you are just able to handle them and skin the beets.  Cut into quarters (or smaller) and toss in the verjus.  Leave to cool (they keep well in the fridge, covered, for several days).  If refrigerating, bring them back to room temperature.  Pile onto serving plates with the rocket, roughly torn goats milk cheese and the walnuts.  For the dressing, mix the salt, pepper and honey into the verjus, add the olive oil and mix to an emulsion.  Pour a little dressing over each plate of salad and serve.

Aubert & Mascoli
67 Dean Street, London W1D 4QH
and at Arch 55 Stanworth Street, Bermondsey SE1 until 3.00pm every Saturday exept the first in the month