Beetroot: Extremely versatile, used both in savoury and sweet cooking, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans for its nutritional value and medicinal purposes. Belonging to the same family as chard and spinach, both the leaves and root of this earthy vegetable are edible.
Otherwise known as beta vulgaris, beetroot is an incredible source of nutrients packed full go vitamins A and C, iron and calcium, as well as being a brilliant source of fibre, manganese, folic acid and potassium. It has been additionally associated with significantly reducing blood pressure and said to improve exercise performance.
British beetroot is mostly grown in the rich soils of the Cambridgeshire fens but is extremely easy to grow in any garden or allotment as it requires very little treatment in the way of pesticides. Sown in early May, beetroot is traditionally ready for harvest in early sunny July but offers a lengthy season that rolls into to October.
Seasonal period: July to October
Flavour friends: Beetroots have a wonderful sweet yet earthy flavour that makes them an interesting addition to both sweet and savoury dishes.
Its earthy aromas makes it the perfect match to bold flavoured ingredients such as woody herbs, gamey meats, mackerel and another seasonal vegetables available at the same time of year.
Beetroot’s sweet tendency complements creamy ingredients such as goats and blue cheeses, but is also the perfect addition to cakes and desserts, particularly those concerning rich chocolate.
Buying, storing and preparing: When purchasing fresh beetroot, look for solid, firm roots with fresh and vibrant looking stalks and leaves. Beetroots will store in a dry, dark place for several weeks, although once prepared keep in the fridge. When cooking the whole root, simply wash well, trim away the leaves and stalks and cook separately – it is not necessary to peel.
Cooking: Fresh beetroot can be boiled or roasted; the latter method often yielding a sweeter, more earthy flavour.
Boiled: Place your prepared beetroot in a larger pan of salted water and simmer for approximately 60 minutes.
Roasted: Sprinkle with a little seasoning and wrap the beetroot in some baking foil. Place in a baking tray and roast on a medium heat for 2.5 – 3 hours.
Words by Helen Upshall