Nigel Slater’s recipes for beets and blood oranges, and for pears and black currants | Food


Jhe bunches of red beets and their burgundy-veined leaves in the shops are tempting. So fresh, so cheap, so “good for you”. But then I bring them home and my excitement mysteriously wanes. Too sweet, too earthy.

I balance the relentless sugary and earthy notes of beets with vinegar (cider, wine, or rice), lemon juice, or an acidic dairy ingredient, like labneh or yogurt — a sharp seasoning to cut through the sweetness. At this time of year, blood oranges do this job wonderfully. The streaks and flecks of dark carmine and tangerine flesh look gorgeous against the dull brown beets, and the acidity is welcome.

And no, I don’t think beets work in a risotto like I used to. Too sweet, too monotonous. You need to include something that will provide balance and harmony. I often use a mustard vinaigrette with boiled or roasted beets, and sometimes introduce bitter greens like watercress or chicory white rabbit ears. Salted capers also give it a boost, as do lactic goat or sheep cheeses.

The pears are still in good condition, which is just as well, since I didn’t manage to put more than part of last summer’s currant and plum crop into the freezer. I cooked a batch of pears this week with red wine and black currants, and ate them with salty, crumbly pecorino crackers.

Beets and blood oranges

If you prefer, cook the beetroot: rub it with a little oil, season it and wrap it in aluminum foil. Bake for about an hour at 180°C/thermostat 4 until tender. For 2 people as a light lunch

For the salad:
beet roots 500g, small
radishes 6
blood oranges 2
radicchio 1, medium size

For the dressing:
blood orange 1
Red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons
grain mustard 1 teaspoon
capers 1 teaspoon
olive oil 4 tablespoons
flowing honey 1 teaspoon

Cut and rub the beets, taking care not to tear their skin. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the beets, lower the heat a little so that the water simmers, then cook for about an hour. They are cooked when you can easily pierce the flesh with a skewer. Drain and let cool.

Cut the radishes in half lengthwise and put them in a blender bowl. Remove the skin from the oranges with a sharp knife, removing every piece of white skin, then cut the fruit into thin rounds. Add them to the radishes. Peel and thinly slice the beets and add them to the oranges.

Prepare the vinaigrette: cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl; stir in the wine vinegar, mustard, capers and olive oil. Stir in honey and season. Pour the vinaigrette over the beets and oranges and let stand for a good 10 minutes.

Separate the radicchio and wash the leaves. Shake them dry, then toss them lightly with the oranges and beets and arrange on a serving platter.

Pears, red wine and blackcurrant

“I suggest Comice, but any pear will do”: pears, red wine and black currants, and pecorino biscuits. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

I suggest Comice, but any pear will do. Rock-hard Conference takes a solid hour to come to tenderness. For 4 people

Cassis 180g, frozen
caster or semolina sugar 60g
comice pears or other large plum pears 4
Red wine 500ml, cheap and fruity
cardamoms 6
cloves 5
cinnamon stick 1

Detach the blackcurrants from their stems and put the fruit in a small saucepan with the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the cassis skins burst. Pass the fruits and their juice through a sieve over a bowl. Press down firmly with the back of a spoon to extract as much flesh and juice as possible. Discard seeds and skins.

Peel the pears and put them in a large, deep saucepan. Pour in the blackcurrant puree, red wine, 500 ml of water, add the cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and partially cover with a lid. Bake for about 40 minutes, turning the pears occasionally, until a skewer can be pushed into them without effort. Remove from heat, let cool, then refrigerate. They are better fresh. Serve with the pecorino cookies below.

Pecorino cookies

Makes about 16

plain flour 125g
Butter 125g, cold
pecorino 80g, finely grated
Egg yolk 1
paprika a little

You will also need a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper.

Put the flour in a mixing bowl, cut the butter into small pieces and rub with your fingertips until you get a fine, soft and fresh crumb texture. (Use a food processor if you prefer.) Be careful not to go overboard with this. Using a fork, stir in the grated pecorino, egg yolk and a little paprika.

Using your hands, bring the mixture back into a ball – it may seem too dry, but keep kneading it for another minute and it will come together like pastry dough. Shape the dough into two small fat cylinders about 6 cm in diameter and let them rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Set the oven to 180C/thermostat 4. Cut rolls of dough into rounds about 0.5 cm thick, placing them, with a little space between them, on a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden brown (they will still be quite soft), then remove from the oven and allow to cool before moving them to a wire rack with a spatula (they are fragile) . They will keep for several days in a cookie tin.

Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater

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