Saturday, June 27, 2009


Beetroot Tart

Although it is widely available throughout the year, as are most root vegetables, beetroot (beets) becomes most relied upon in my kitchen when it is winter. Its earthy sweetness and intense crimson flesh give warmth to frosty days. Beetroot bolsters the winter frame of mind and pairs particularly well with ingredients that tend to keep the cold away (especially ginger). Beetroot is surprisingly versatile and always, to my mind, an enchanting root vegetable to behold.

Beets have not always captivated me, though, and my previous aversion to them is relatively common. My revulsion stemmed from containers of sliced, pickled beetroot that were (and remain) a mainstay in my parents' refrigerator. I sampled them but once and practically gagged from the acidity of the flabby slices. I was put off for more than twenty years, avoiding any dish that came into contact with beets, even if they hadn't been pickled. Great cookery writers - Tamasin Day-Lewis, Diana Henry and Deborah Madison and their powers of description - convinced me that I had been too swift in maligning the spunky root vegetable.

For some, there is not an aversion to the taste of beets, but rather to the preparation of them. Beetroots contain pigments that stain (and for some people, hard to break down internally), and I have not come across a quick or convenient way to peel beets once they have been cooked. In my experience, it just seems best to handle beetroots as quickly as possible and to rinse one's hands often. There are two good tips to stop the colour running if you're roasting or steaming beets:
1) do not cut the stalks but 2.5cm (1") from the top of the root; and
2) do not cut the tail of the root.

The only time you may want the colour to run is when preparing soups. When roasting, wrap cleaned beets in aluminium foil and roast at 200 C (400 F) until softened, approximately 45 minutes. Unwrap foil, and when cool enough to handle, the beets are easy to be peeled, then sliced or grated as you prefer. It is best to add seasoning to beets when still warm, so that the flavours you wish to impart are absorbed by the beets.

Beetroot Tart

For the Shortcrust Pastry (for a 22-25cm (9-10") tart shell):

1 cup (and up to 1/3 cup extra, depending on humidity) flour, sifted
100g (3.5oz) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
iced water

1) In a bowl, rub together the flour and butter with the tips of your fingers until a granular consistency is reached.
2) Slowly add iced water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture coheres into a ball. If it seems dry, you might need to add flour - you do not want it to be sticky. (If you prefer a golden tart, use one egg as the binder, and only add water if the mixture does not entirely come together.)
3) Once a ball has been formed, create a flat disc, and cover in cling-film. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it overnight)
4) Bring pastry out of the fridge and let rest at room temperature to become pliable (5-10 minutes if left in the fridge for 30 minutes).
5) Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F).
6) Put pastry on a lightly-floured surface. Roll it out with a floured rolling pin, turning the pastry after each pass of the rolling pin to ensure it doesn't stick to the surface. Roll it out so it can fit into a prepared (that is to say, buttered and floured) tart shell.
7) Allow to sit in tart shell in fridge for at least 15 minutes, and until you are ready to add the beetroot filling.

For the Beetroot Filling:

750g (1 1/2lb) grated beetroot (roasted, then peeled, as above)
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
2 eggs, lightly beaten and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper
3/4 cup cream (or milk)

1) In a bowl, mix together the still warm grated beetroot, ginger, pomegranate molasses, and pinches of salt and pepper.
2) Beat eggs and cream together.
3) Pour egg mixture into

To Finish:

Shortcrust pastry, as above
Beetroot filling, as above

1) Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F).
2) Take pastry shell out of the fridge and pour beetroot filling into it.
3) Place on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.
4) Allow to cool for five minutes before releasing from tart ring.

I love the shot of rich colour, almost Elizabethan in its saturation. One cannot help but be drawn to it, forgetting the howling gales outside. The butteriness of the pastry rounds out the beetroot's earthiness. I have made this before with spices, such as caraway, but have found that they make the beetroot quite musty...Ginger, on the other hand, lifts the flavour profile entirely. This is a heady tart that provides something different when one is used to the same preparations for root vegetables over the leaner winter months.

I hope that this post convinces those with an aversion, however slight or great, to give beetroot another chance. If you need to be further convinced of the beetroot's versatility, see my friend Pille's blog, nami-nami.

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