Beetroot, as we know it today, has evolved from the sea beet, a wild seashore plant that still grows around the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe and North Africa. Close relatives are the Swiss chard and the sugar beet, the latter providing an important source of sugar in some countries.
Mostly we tend to eat the bulbous roots of the beetroot and as well as the ever-present red type, at the moment my local fruiterer has some wonderful golden beets that vary from golf ball size to that of a child’s fist.
The tender leaves can also be used in many dishes. There appears to be two quite distinctive leaf types. The first has relatively thick and meaty foliage with a pronounced central stem, almost chard-like, though still tender. These can be washed, plunged into boiling water and then chopped and dressed with olive oil or butter like any leafy green. They can be tossed through pasta or used in soups or braises.
The second has small, delicate leaves that can be cut like grass and tend to regenerate like rocket after each harvest. These are the beet leaves used in salads, flans, pies, lasagne and ravioli. Depending on the variety, they can be spicy to a greater or lesser extent.
ROAST BEETROOT WITH HAZELNUTS AND GORGONZOLA
Use a mixture of red and golden beetroot for a colourful and tasty result.
24 small to medium beetroots, trimmed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
150g hazelnuts, roasted a little in a pan
Salt and pepper
Trim both ends of the beetroots. Scrub them well with a soft brush under cold water. Pat them dry and toss with a tablespoon of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place them in some aluminium foil, seal the package and roast in a preheated 180C oven until they’re tender. It will take 15 minutes or more depending on their size. Open immediately and cool before peeling and quartering each. Place the beet pieces on a ceramic plate and sprinkle with the remaining olive oil. Break up the Gorgonzola (or other blue cheese) into small pieces and scatter them on top. Place under the grill for a few seconds till the cheese has melted. Finish by scattering the roasted hazelnut pieces on top and serve.