and the beet goes on

 beetroot pesto

There’s something about beets. Maybe its their gorgeous colour that departs a little rosy glow to your wee to remind you of what you’ve been eating or maybe it’s their brooding earthy flavour, slightly sweet but complex. Whatever it is, there’s one thing I’m sure of. I am a beetroot addict.

Growing up in a good rural Aussie family, beetroot of the tinned variety was often featured in summer salads and a hamburger just wasn’t ( isn’t!) a hamburger without a decent slice of the beet to slip out and stain your shorts. But it wasn’t until my first encounter with fresh roast beetroot that things started to get serious.

Like a true junkie I remember my first hit well. I was home alone and for some reason had decided to go all out and cook myself a proper dinner. Pan seared tuna, succulently rare in the middle pearched atop a golden disc of potato rosti with a scattering of fresh rocket, roasted baby beets and a rocket aioli. While the tuna was edible enough, the rest of the dish was pretty forgettable except of course for the tender little beets. Before I knew it I had devoured the beets on my place and was making light work of the survivors still hiding in their foil roasting parcel.

Since that day, I’ve found it extremely hard to go past anything on a restaurant menu that has the vaguest mention of beets. Beetroot risotto, borscht, beet chutney I’m always willing to indulge my habit. At least once a fortnight I get myself a good looking bunch and roast the beets while I pick through the leaves, discarding any leathery old ones before sauteing them with a little oil and garlic and a handful of walnuts to serve as an easy midweek meal.

And then there is always one of my favourite and more unusual discoveries. Beetroot pesto. This is pretty much as versatile as your standard basil based pesto and makes a lovely colourful change in the winter time when summer loving basil is at a premium of over $6/bunch. Use it as a dip with Turkish or pita bread, as a sauce for pasta or a topping for a hearty vegetable soup. The possibilities are endless really….all good things.

a very pretty in pink springtime dinner
BBQ lamb fillets with beetroot pesto
BBQ zucchini & baby spinach salad
rhubarb sorbet

BBQ lamb fillets with beetroot pesto
serves 4

Feel free to mix up the meat in this dish. I love lamb and lamb fillets are always a lovely tender treat but feel free to substitute in lamb cutlets or loin chops or backstrap or even try with chicken breasts or for the more adventurous roo or venison. Even prettily pink salmon or ocean trout would make a very becoming accompaniment.

800g lamb fillets
4T extra virgin olive oil
2T red wine vinegar
2T seeded mustard
4 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
beetroot pesto, to serve
BBQ zucchini & baby spinach salad, to serve

Combine oil, vinegar, mustard and thyme in a ceramic bowl and season. Toss through lamb and cover. Refrigerate and allow to marinate for up to 48hrs. Remove from the fridge an hour before you’re ready to cook to allow the lamb to warm to room temp. Preheat at BBQ or char grill pan to very hot then sear lamb for a few minutes on each side or until cooked to your liking.

Allow to rest for a few minutes then divide lamb between 4 warmed plates and serve with a generous dollup of pesto and the salad passed separately.

BBQ zucchini & baby spinach salad
Serves 4

It was the lovely Juanita who got me hooked on zucchini a good many years ago but I have to credit Jamie Oliver with introducing me to the smoky buttery goodness that is BBQ zucchini. I often BBQ a heap of different veg and mix them all together but had a bit of a craving for a more leafy salad so opted for the baby spinach addition. Not a bad little combo if I do say so myself.

4 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 4 slices each
5T extra virgin olive oil
2T sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
4 handfuls approx 150g baby spinach, leaves washed

Preheat BBQ or char grill pan and toss zucchini with 1T oil and season well. Combine remaining oil, vinegar, garlic and thyme in the base of a salad bowl and season. BBQ zucchini slices over a medium high heat until charred and softened. Transfer directly to the salad bowl and toss to combine. Allow to sit until you are ready to serve. Fish out and discard garlic then toss through spinach leaves and serve immediately

beetroot pesto
makes approx 2 cups 

This is a great idea pinched from Jill Dupleix years ago when she was still writing for the Good Living section of the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s one of those ideas that seems radical at first but once you give it a go seems just so poetic and down right delicious that you’ll be wondering why you didn’t think of it yourself.

1 bunch beets, trimmed, approx 750g
2T olive oil
2T balsamic vinegar
40g (1/4C) pinenuts, lightly toasted
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4C extra virgin olive oil
100g parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 200C. Scrub beets well then trim tops. Quarter beets and place on a large sheet of foil. Drizzle with oil and balsamic vinegar and season well. Wrap foil to form a parcel and seal well. Cook for 50mins to an hour or until beets are tender. Allow to cool then place beets in a food processor with pinenuts and garlic and puree. Gradually pour in oil and stir through cheese. Season well.

rhubarb sorbet
Serves 4
Adapted from Sean Morans top little book, Let It Simmer.

Sean spices his rhubarb sorbet up with cinnamon & star anise and then serves it with fresh blood orange segments and Florentines. I’m more about keeping it simple and focusing on the star of the show. You don’t really need an icecream maker to make decent sorbet. Just place in the freezer and stir every few hours to break up the ice crystals. The texture won’t be as silky smooth as with the icecream maker product but you’ll still have a super refreshing rhubarb treat.

If you don’t have vanilla sugar feel free to sub in regular white sugar with possibly a dash of vanilla extract or simmer with a vanilla pod and fish out before freezing. I’m also keen to give it a go with some Campari for a deliciously bitter alcohol kick.

150g vanilla sugar
600g rhubarb, leaves trimmed, cut into 4cm lengths
3 blood oranges, juiced

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered stirring occasionally for 10-15mins or until rhubarb is well cooked and softened. Allow to cool. Puree in a food processor until very smooth then refrigerate until chilled. Freeze in an icecream maker as per the manufacturer’s directions.

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{ 9 comments }

Evelin September 10, 2007 at 2:43 pm

it’s true – roasted beets ARE one of the best dishes out there!
I’m definitely going to try the beetroot pesto this year – I love the surprise element! (and everything with balsamic vinegar, of course:))

ann September 10, 2007 at 5:39 pm

I’m here to abet your habit. The next time you make something with beetroot pesto, garnish it with a little sprinkling of chiffonaded mint. It’s my hands down, all time favorite, best ever until the end of the world flavor combination. The mint does something magical to elevate the already perfect flavor of beets. Also, I usually use lemon juice as opposed to vinegar to add a bright note to my beetroot pesto. Delightful! I’m so happy to know there are other beet addicts out there!

barbara September 11, 2007 at 2:45 am

I love the beetroot dip you buy in the store. Thanks for sharing this recipe. I’ll be making my own now.

zoe September 11, 2007 at 5:34 am

oh, I also have a beetroot pesto/dip (and of course, beetroot in hamburgers. no question!) addiction. and so easy to make! :) I might just have to….

deborah September 11, 2007 at 9:29 am

love love love this menu. i like the idea of serving the pesto with salmon too. will give it a go next time i see beets at the vege market.

Casey September 12, 2007 at 4:43 am

I’d never even considered beet pesto, but send you profuse thanks as Resident Gardener has had way too much success with beeths this year–and has been a bit grumpy because I haven’at made full use of the crop.

Emma October 1, 2007 at 2:37 am

What a delicious option for wonderful beetroots. I too have recently been introduced to the wonders of fresh roasted beets having been brought up on the canned variety. My favourite way to have them is on bruscetta. Rub the toasted bread with a garlic clove, spread with soft goats cheese, top with sliced freshly roasted beetroots (roasted with oil and balsamic of course) and topped with a little fresh salt and black pepper. Mmmmm

I love this so much I have to have a fix every couple of weeks!

Thanks for the new recipe!

Janice October 2, 2007 at 11:41 pm

So clever and delicious. Beet’s me!

panos August 25, 2008 at 12:09 pm

mmmmmm, summer is coming… can’t wait to start trying all your recipes… bbq’s… beet pesto.. now that is a plan.
might have to pass on my recipe… just need to put it on paper 1st, once i get it off mum! :)

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