Well, we harvested them the other day and only one of the ten or so was a particularly good size. Which was okay, as we hadn't thought any of them would come to anything. Next year we'll have to plant them a bit further apart, I think.
However, I'd been putting some thought into what I'd do with them if any were any good - and had the thought of Borscht floating around in my back of my head.
Now Borscht is not something I'd ever had (prior to last night, anyway), nor was it anything that had particularly appeared on my radar as being something that I just had to try. I like beetroot - and a salad just isn't a salad without it - but an entire soup made from beetroot? That was a bit more of a challenge.
Having spent time thinking about it though, I had (sort of) committed myself to giving it a go. So, I researched various recipes and put a bunch of fresh beetroot on the shopping list. I didn't plump for one particular recipe, eventually I took the best bits from three different recipes and made my own - which accorded with the image I had in my mind, of what Borscht looked like and tasted like. Which was tricky, because as I say, I'd never seen it (other than in photographs), much less tasted it!
Having heard all kinds of horror stories of kitchens being painted purple (one Twitter friend dropped a panful of the stuff), and having watched Nigel Slater turn his hands purple when grating a beetroot, I also put a pair of rubber gloves on the shopping list.
My recipe required a number of the vegetables to be julienned and I didn't much fancy turning the chopping board purple, so I'd been pondering on this conundrum for a while. Ultimately, I utilised a version of Rachel Allen's method of rolling out pastry - and put a double sheet of cling film onto the worktop, which I then put the mandolin onto and julienned the beetroot onto that. (What, use a knife? Not when there's a mandolin around!). This stroke of inspiration (as well as the rubber gloves), meant that absolutely nothing got dyed purple and the beetroot could be conveyed from whole to julienned, then from worktop to saucepan, without any evidence appearing on the worktop, chopping board, floor or my clothes. (The latter of which is completely amazing, if you know what a muck magnet I am usually!).
As for the flavour, well, it's not exactly beetroot - but the earthiness is there and not overpoweringly so. The sweetness of beetroot is there, naturally. However, it seems as though the combination of flavours does that unusual thing in that they combine, amalgamate and come forth in a collection of flavours that is unlike anything you've ever had before. Nothing is a huge flavour, nothing outweighs anything else. Even the cabbage is welcomed with open arms by the remainder of the flavours and just sort of disappears. I can completely understand the addition of vinegar at the end, as this serves to sharpen up the taste, giving you a complete and rounded flavour as a whole. Borscht has umami by the bucketload.
The recipe is all about preparation. If you get the vegetables sliced up and prepared before you start cooking, it's just a simple matter of putting items one after the other into the saucepan until they're cooked.
BORSCHT (feeds 2)
1 tbsp butter
4 slices streaky bacon, cut into thin strips
1 medium potato, diced small
1 large carrot, julienned (use the mandolin)
1 stick celery, de-stringed and chopped fine
2 shallots (or 1 onion), chopped
200g raw beetroots, skinned and julienned
100g sweetheart cabbage, sliced finely
600ml beef stock
a tinned plum tomato, chopped finely
the juice from the tomato tin
2 tsp red wine vinegar
salt & pepper
In a large heavy pan, melt butter and lightly fry the bacon until fat has rendered and is becoming brown.
Then add the shallots and fry until softened.
Add the potatoes, carrots, celery and beetroot and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add beef stock, tomatoes and tomato juice plus some pepper and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Add the cabbage and stir to combine. Bring back to a simmer, cover and cook until potato cubes are done.
Take a potato masher and gently crush the soup, to break up the potato but not mashing the vegetables. Give a good stir and taste for seasoning. (Add loads of black pepper – it can take it).
Add vinegar and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Serve with a swirl of sour cream.