Life changing blue cheese and beetroot carpaccio salad all thanks to Nigel Slater
“Specific hatreds, however, should never be trifled with. People who will not (or say they will not) eat vegetables at all are fair game, but someone with a profound hatred of, say, of beets should not be challenged. A life without beets or lima beans is a fine, full life.”
-Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking
Regular readers of this blog will know that, having been brought up by nuns on beetroot soaked for months in gallons of cheap vinegar, a mere whiff of that vegetable is enough to make my stomach churn.
I can just about come to terms with fresh golden beetroot, lightly roasted, but even that is touch and go. In any case, gold beetroot is cheating really. Did you know that the botanical name for beetroot, Beta, comes from the Celtic, bett, meaning ‘red’?
So beetroot is a pet hate. And then the other day I found myself experimenting with a Nigel Slater beetroot recipe completely by mistake.
The title of his recipe (in The Christmas Chronicles) was, misleadingly, Fig and Blue Cheese Salad. No mention of the ‘B’ word. I was looking for something to use up the remains of the Christmas truckle of Stitchelton – that seemed to fit the bill. I delegated the buying of the ingredients to a helpful friend, blithely instructing – “leave out the figs” (not liked by the Saucy Dressings’ Chief Taster).
And so it was that, as I hunted for the various items needed, I finally noticed the ‘B’ word. “It’ll be cooked somehow”, I reassured myself. But it wasn’t. Reading on down I saw to my horror that the whole crux of the recipe turned on THE MARINATING IN VINEGAR OF THE BEETROOT.
Alas! Alack! There was no going back now. Images of being caught red-handed for one thing or another came flooding back vividly as my own hands turned a vivid red while I mixed the beetroot into the marinade.
The hour’s mandatory soaking time up, I approached the vegetable, languishing in acid, gingerly. I speared carefully with a fork. A REVELATION!!! The beetroot was crisp…crunchy almost. And it tasted, in fact, really very nice. I’ve now become a fervent convert to beetroot carpaccio– the nuns would be proud.
Just as well. The salad got a huge thumbs up from everybody else, and they all wanted the beetroot carpaccio again.
Incidentally, if you are a gardener you could try growing the candy-striped Barbietola di Chioggia; outrageous orange colour, Burpee’s Golden; or the traditional deep purple Bolivar.
- You need to marinate the beetroot for a minimum of an hour. Allow time.
- Don’t try and make this for less than four people – you don’t want to be leaving half a beetroot to moulder away in the fridge. Nor does this keep that well – even if you sprinkle with lemon, the apple still goes brown after a while.
- For presentational purposes I recommend laying out on a big serving platter, allowing everyone to go ooo and ahhhhhh, and enjoy the WoW! Factor, and then mixing well. If you serve this dressed and stirred the beetroot carpaccio turns everything including the cheese to a murky bruised sort of hue.
- Serve with lots of fruit chutney – this is essential; Nigel Slater included figs in his salad, the chutney offers the same sweetness, and it also goes well with ham if you are serving that.
- Masterchef winner, Irini Tzortzoglou, describes a salad in Crete (the island of her birth) consisting of beetroot and green apples with a yoghurt and za’atar dressing – you could experiment with that.
If you serve with crusty bread and ham this salad will be transformed into a hearty lunch.
If you serve it with rolls of Parma ham, the beetroot carpaccio makes a great starter for ten (plate it, and allow each individual to mix and dress).
I’ve changed almost everything in the original recipe, and I’ve also added a couple of ingredients, but Slater’s original beetroot-apple-blue cheese concept remains.
The joy of this is that it is a technique – you can use the beetroot carpaccio in all kinds of ways. A couple of evenings ago I had a fantastic dish, put together by chef Timo Müller at Au Quai in Hamburg of snowcrab, crispy coconut, salted thai-curry-coconut ice cream… and beetroot carpaccio…. to die for!
Recipe for life changing blue cheese beetroot carpaccio salad all thanks to Nigel Slater
Serves 4 (don’t try to make for fewer, see note 2, above) as part of a hearty lunch, or 10 as a starter.
- 2 tsp chestnut (if possible) honey
- 3 tbsps cider vinegar
- 2 tsps fennel seeds
- 1 beetroot
- 40g/½ cup chopped walnuts
- small red-skinned apples
- Lemon juice – to sprinkle over the apple and stop it going brown – you only need this if you are preparing ahead.
- 200g/7 oz blue cheese – I use leftover Stichelton from Christmas – and yes, you really do need this amount. Leftover blue cheese is best because it crumbles more easily.
- 1 baby gem lettuce
- Smoked salt and freshly ground Indonesian long pepper
- 80 ml/⅓cup walnut oil
- tbsps munchy seeds
- Dried cranberries (optional)
- Chutney – I think blackberry and apple goes particularly well – to serve
- Mix the honey and the cider vinegar in a small bowl. Slater uses white wine vinegar, but I think the cider taste goes better with the apples – and it’s also a touch sweeter.
- Top and tail the beetroot, peel it with a potato peeler, and slice thinly into half moon shapes.
- Add to the cider-honey mix to coat.
- Dry fry the fennel seeds (don’t wash up the pan) and add to the beetroot.
- Marinate the beetroot for at least an hour, but stir every now and then so that the top bits of beetroot sticking out of the liquid get their share of pickling.
- Meanwhile shred the baby gem and put it on a big deepish serving plate, or in a large china bowl which is not precious (the beetroot will stain everything so avoid wood or heirlooms). See note 3 above re why a deep serving platter is a good idea.
- Dry fry the walnuts and add to the baby gem.
- Crumble over the blue cheese, and sprinkle over the Munchy seeds and the dried cranberries if you have those..
- Sprinkle over the salt, and grind over the pepper.
- At the last minute, cut the apples into quarters, core them and cut into thin wedges. Lay over artistically.
- Drain the beetroot (Slater uses his, but I couldn’t bring myself to do this) and arrange artistically.
- Pour over the walnut oil.
- Allow all to admire, and then mix well and serve with the chutney.