Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Winter salad of salt-baked beetroot, roasted heritage carrots, whipped goat’s curd, wild garlic and quail eggs
Spring is just around the corner. The heating is still on but the sun is starting to creep through what seems like months of dreary cloud. Wild garlic has just sprung up, and we’re within reaching distance of Jersey Royals, early asparagus and broad beans; those short-season vegetables that I yearn for every year. But it’s easy to forget about the amazing cold weather produce that we have right now. Vegetables like carrot and beetroot often get a raw deal and are labelled as dull and boring, but with a little bit of thought they can be the stars of the show.
I was inspired reading an article by Henry Dimbleby recently where he wrote that that you should avoid boiling vegetables at all costs. This reminded me of growing up, where my brother and I used to be given little side bowls of soft broccoli, carrots and beans alongside pretty much anything. We both loved vegetables when we were young and would wolf them down with our pasta, curry or chicken escalope. But it was hardly exciting stuff, just something that we ate quickly because we were told it was good for us. Dimbleby, and more prolifically Yotam Ottolenghi, have shown that you can transform and enhance the flavours of our humble groceries using other simple methods. Now I look to roast or fry wherever possible, making sure that I dress with butter, oil and flavourings once cooked.
Despite the fact that this blog is filled with meat and fish recipes, these are mostly the things that I save for special occasions. Most of the time, especially midweek, I eat a vegetable-heavy diet that includes little to no meat. I’m lucky to have a fantastic greengrocer just around the corner from me, and I pop in most days to grab super fresh, seasonal produce for my supper. I think that meat and fish are a bit of a treat, and I’d far rather spend more at a good quality butcher or fishmonger less frequently than cheaper, poorly reared stuff every day from the supermarkets. Not having meat with every meal is one of those things that particularly testosterone-heavy men get hot under the collar about, but it is so easy to knock up simple and amazing tasting dishes using veggies alone. And lord knows I’ve had some practice; both of my sisters are vegetarians and you can’t keep on serving grilled halloumi every time they come round…
It’s now fairly easy to get hold of different colours and varieties of carrots and beets, and these really help create a visual impact. Roasting and salt-baking intensifies the flavour, and there’s something a little caveman like about pulling a solid lump of salt out of the oven and smashing it with a spoon. I’ve also tried to use as much of the vegetable as I can. Just like using the less glamorous cuts of meat, we often needlessly throw away bits of perfectly good veg. In this case I’ve saved the leaves from the tops of the carrots and beetroot to add a different taste and a bit of texture to the dish.
Those little crispy quail eggs are addictive. The soft boiling and peeling process can be a little fiddly with my big clumsy hands, but it’s worth making way more as you’ll just want to eat then straight out of the fryer.
For the salt-baked beetroot:
3 beetroots, washed but left unpeeled
4 egg whites
800g table salt
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked
For the roasted carrots:
3-4 carrots, washed and peeled
5 sprigs of thyme
5 sprigs of rosemary
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 lemon, zest finely grated and juice kept
For the quail’s eggs:
3 quail eggs
5tbsp panko breadcrumbs
3tbsp plain flour
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil for frying, approx. 1ltr
2tbsp white wine vinegar
For the crispy carrot tops:
6 carrot top cuttings
For the sautéed sprout flowers:
A handful of sprout flowers, sliced in half lengthways if large
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
The leaves from the beetroot, washed and trimmed
6 wild garlic leaves
½ a lemon, juice only
For the olive crumb:
About 20 Kalamata or other strong black olives
For the garlic oil:
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves picked
For the whipped goat’s curd:
4tbsp fresh goat’s curd
1tbsp double cream
For the beetroot yoghurt:
½ a red beetroot, peeled and cut into rough 1cm pieces
4tbsp natural yoghurt
A few components of this dish are better prepared the night before.
To make the beetroot yoghurt, put the beetroot chunks into a small bowl and sprinkle over a little salt. Leave for five minutes for the juices to start to leach out and then mix in the yoghurt. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, the colour and flavour will get more vivid the longer you leave it. When ready to use, strain through a sieve and discard the beetroot.
For the olive crumb, remove the stones from the black olives by pushing and rolling on a chopping board. Scatter onto a greaseproof-lined baking tray and cook in a low oven (about 80⁰C) overnight, or until fully dried out. Transfer to a small food processor and blend to a fine powder.
The garlic oil is also best made a little in advance. Combine the sliced garlic and rosemary leaves in a bowl with a little salt. Leave for a couple of minutes and then pour over the extra virgin olive oil. Cover and allow to steep for at least a couple of hours.
Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add the quail eggs and boil for 2 minutes, then quickly remove to a bowl of iced water mixed with the vinegar. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then roll very gently against the bottom of the bowl to crack the shell before carefully peeling. Dry with kitchen roll. Put the panko, flour and beaten egg into two plates and a bowl respectively and season all elements well. Roll the soft-boiled eggs in the flour, then dip in the egg before finally coating in the breadcrumbs. Put on a plate and refrigerate until needed.
On the day of serving the dish, preheat the oven to 190⁰C.
Make the salt paste by combining the table salt, rosemary and egg whites in a large bowl. You may need a little more salt depending on the size of the eggs. Wrap the beetroot with the salt mixture and bake in the oven for about an hour.
Put the carrots, garlic, thyme, rosemary, lemon zest and seasoning into a separate baking dish and toss with a little olive oil. Roast in the same oven as the beetroot for 30-45mins, shaking the tray occasionally. When cooked, remove from the oven and squeeze over the lemon juice.
Spoon the goat’s curd into a bowl and add the cream and a good twist of pepper. Stir well with a fork until combined and smooth.
When the vegetables are nearly cooked, heat the frying oil in a heavy saucepan until it reaches 165⁰C. Fry the carrot tops very quickly for about 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Keep the oil hot for the eggs later on.
When tender, remove the root vegetables from the oven. Crack the salt crusts from around the beetroot and peel away the skin. Cut the beets into wedges and slice the carrots lengthways into halves or quarters. Keep warm while you finish the rest of the dish.
To cook the greens, heat the butter with a little oil in a large frying pan. Soften the garlic over a medium heat and then add the sprout flowers and cook for a couple of minutes until al-dente. Season and stir through the wild garlic and beetroot tops. Fry for a further minute, then squeeze over the lemon juice and remove from the heat.
Fry the coated quail eggs for a minute or so in the hot oil or until light golden brown. Slice in half then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
To plate up, spoon a bit of the beetroot yoghurt on one side of the plate and place a quenelle of the goat’s curd in the middle. Arrange the carrots, beets, greens and three egg halves on the other half of the plate. Place on a couple of the crispy carrot tops. Spoon over some of the garlic oil and finally sprinkle on some of the olive crumb.