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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Nigel Slater’s recipes for beetroot and blood oranges, and for pears and blackcurrant | Food

The bunches of beetroot and their claret-veined leaves in the shops are tempting. So fresh, so cheap, so “good for you”. But then I get them home and my enthusiasm mysteriously wanes. Too sweet, too earthy.

I balance the relentless sugar-and-soil notes of beetroot with vinegar (cider, wine or rice) lemon juice or a sour dairy ingredient, such as labneh or yoghurt – knife-sharp seasoning to slice through the sweetness. At this time of year, blood oranges do that job splendidly. The stripes and blotches of deep carmine and tangerine flesh are beautiful when set against the dull maroon beets, and the acidity is welcome.

And no, I don’t think beetroot works in a risotto as I once did. Too sugary, too monotone. You need to include something that will offer balance and harmony. I often use a mustardy dressing with boiled or roast beets, and I sometimes introduce bitter greens such as watercress or white rabbit-ears of chicory. Salty capers give it a kick up the backside, too, as will lactic goat’s or sheep cheeses.

The pears are still in fine fettle, which is just as well, as I failed to squirrel away more than a few of last summer’s crop of gooseberries and damsons in the freezer. I cooked a batch of pears this week with red wine and blackcurrants, and ate them with salty, crumbly pecorino biscuits.

Beetroot and blood oranges

Bake the beetroot if you prefer: rub with a little oil, season and wrap loosely in foil. Bake for an hour or so at 180C/gas mark 4 until tender. Serves 2 as a light lunch

For the salad:
beetroots 500g, small ones
radishes 6
blood oranges 2
radicchio 1, medium sized

For the dressing:
blood orange 1
red wine vinegar 2 tbsp
grain mustard 1 tsp
capers 1 tsp
olive oil 4 tbsp
runny honey 1 tsp

Trim and scrub the beetroots, taking care not to tear their skins. Bring a deep pan of water to the boil, add the beetroots, lower the heat a little so the water simmers, then cook for about an hour. They are done when you can easily pierce the flesh with a skewer. Drain and leave to cool.

Cut the radishes in half lengthways and put them in a mixing bowl. Remove the peel from the oranges with a sharp knife, trimming away every bit of white pith, then slice the fruit into thin rounds. Add them to the radishes. Peel and thinly slice the beetroot and add them to the oranges.

Make the dressing: halve the orange and squeeze the juice into a bowl; stir in the wine vinegar, mustard, capers and olive oil. Stir in the honey and season. Pour the dressing over the beetroot and oranges and leave for a good 10 minutes.

Pull the radicchio apart and wash the leaves. Shake them dry, then toss them lightly with the oranges and beetroots, and arrange on a serving dish.

Pears, red wine and blackcurrant

‘I suggest Comice, but any pear will do’: pears, red wine and blackcurrant, and pecorino biscuits.
‘I suggest Comice, but any pear will do’: pears, red wine and blackcurrant, and pecorino biscuits. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

I suggest Comice, but any pear will do. Rock-hard Conference take a good hour to come to tenderness. Serves 4

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

Pull the blackcurrants from their stalks and put the fruit into a small pan with the sugar and 3 tbsp of water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the blackcurrant skins have burst. Pour the fruit and its juice through a sieve over a bowl. Press firmly with the back of a spoon to extract as much flesh and juice as you can. Discard the seeds and skins.

Peel the pears and put them in a large, deep saucepan. Pour in the blackcurrant purée, red wine, 500ml of water, add the cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and partially cover with a lid. Cook for about 40 minutes, turning the pears from time to time, until a skewer can be pushed effortlessly into them. Remove from the heat, leave to cool, then refrigerate. They are best thoroughly chilled. Serve with the pecorino biscuits below.

Pecorino biscuits

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 baking parchment.

Put the flour into a mixing bowl, cut the butter into small pieces and rub together with your fingertips to the texture of fine, soft, fresh breadcrumbs. (Use a food processor if you prefer.) Take care not to go too far with this. Using a fork, stir in the grated pecorino, egg yolk and a shake of paprika.

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

Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Slice rolls of dough into rounds, about 0.5cm thick, placing them, with a little space between them, on a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes until pale gold (they will still be quite soft), then remove from the oven and set aside to cool before moving them on to a rack using a palette knife (they are fragile). They will keep for several days in a biscuit tin.

Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater

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