Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pumpkin with beetroot? Alain Passard gets it right

Chioggia and Burpees Golden Beetroots

Having an allotment or kitchen garden means there is almost always a glut of some fruit or vegetable to  challenge the imagination.  In February-March we are pulling leeks and parsnips from the frozen ground.  Come April we're planting seeds for the coming season but also feasting on purple sprouting broccoli.  Early summer sees us tentatively probing the autumn-planted garlic for the, hopefully, fat swollen bulbs and starting to pick the soft fruits.  By mid-summer we are scurrying to the plot every other day to deal with an embarrassment of riches from the raspberry canes.

Late summer into autumn is all about scarlet, yellow and white stemmed Ruby chard, earthy, sweet beetroot, squash and pumpkin.  Although growing pumpkins and squash has been a dispiriting affair for most of us this year, beetroot hasn't suffered much from the strange weather conditions in the UK. Right now, I can use as many good recipes for beetroot as I can get - there are only so many beetroot salads we can take.

A present of Alain Passard's book, The Art of Cooking with Vegetables, arrived at just the right time.  Though approached with trepidation (well, this is a 3 Michelin starred chef we're talking about here), the recipes are proving to be very simple, interesting and delicious.

Pumpkin & Beetroot Bake

Being so over-burdened with beetroot, I went straight to the page 'A tale of pumpkin and beetroot'. It's a perfect recipe for this time of year so, although I was doubtful about the combination, I tried it out.  Even Passard had his reservations when he considered the pairing - "... it is an encounter I did not really believe could work ..."  The firm, juicy earthiness of the red beetroot goes with the soft, sweet pumpkin wonderfully well.  A sharp burst of lime and mint cuts through the rich butter and cheese elements of the dish.  Visually it's a stunner too.  The recipe below is slightly adapted from the original, but when the original is so good you really don't want to mess with it too much. Passard does not instruct you to peel the pumpkin.  If you use butternut squash, peeling isn't necessary (though personally I prefer to), but with a hard-skinned pumpkin you will need to peel it.

A Dish of Pumpkin & Beetroot
(Generously serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course)
300g (11oz)  peeled butternut squash, or favourite pumpkin, cut into large crescent shaped wedges.
Uncooked red beetroot weighing at least 700g (1lb 10oz)
100g (4oz) lightly salted butter, preferably clarified
Juice of 1 lime
A small handful of mint leaves
200g (7 oz) Emmental cheese cut into thin slices
Salt & pepper

Cook the beetroots in lightly salted simmering water, in a covered pan, for up to an hour depending on size.  Leave to cool in the cooking water for 30 minutes, then peel and cut it into large dice.
Set a large pan over low heat (if it's one that can take all the ingredients and go under the grill at the end, so much the better), melt the butter and add the pumpkin wedges.  Sweat the pumpkin gently, partially covered, for 40 minutes or until tender and lightly coloured, turning it occasionally.  Remove from the heat.
If you need to change to a pan which can go under the grill, now is the time.  Arrange the crescents of pumpkin so that they are lying as flat as possible and distribute the diced beetroot in between, making a fairly level layer.  Add the lime juice and mint leaves and top with the slices of Emmental.
Place the pan under a hot grill for several minutes until the cheese melts.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.
Salad leaves and crusty bread turn this into a substantial main course dish.