The last of our beetroot have reached the size of Bramley apples and are starting to turn a little woody. They need harvesting quickly before they reach the point of no return and end up on the compost heap. So, at the weekend, we pulled up a huge basketful, leaving just a couple of the smaller ones behind for another day.
The Rhonda beetroot were added to some softened, cumin-spiced onions, and whizzed up with chicken stock (made from one of our departed cockerels) into a soup the colour of purple velvet. There’s enough for several days, so we divided it into batches, and tucked it in the freezer stores amongst tubs of summer berries and garden soup. We’ll eat it in deep bowls with a hunk of buttered bread or a crumbling of sharp feta.
The smaller Barabietola di Chioggia beetroot were sliced thinly and layered in jars. We covered them with a simmered mix of white wine vinegar and granulated sugar, bolstered with fresh bay leaves and rosemary sprigs. A crunchy, raw pickle for the store cupboard. Their candy-striped pink and white flesh makes the finished jars look like oddly-shaped peppermint humbugs, suspended in syrup. The colour will leach out of them eventually, but for now they look wonderful.
This left a tangled pile of beetroot leaves and stems. These, removed of any tough, scraggly leaves, were quickly cooked in boiling water and combined with some translucent slices of floury potatoes. Covered in a blanket of milky cream, spiked with a couple of spoonfuls of grain mustard, and finished with a sprinkling of strong cheddar and crunchy breadcrumbs, they made a warming gratin for the dinner table yesterday. We ate it with a simple salad of dressed watercress, and a few crunchy slices of the pickled beetroot, to cut through the richness of the creamy potatoes.
Beetroot Leaf and Potato Gratin
- 400 g beetroot tops, leaves and stems separated, and stems chopped into 2cm lengths
- 600 g floury potatoes
- 175 ml double cream
- 175 ml whole milk
- 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
- a little butter to grease the dish
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 75 g mature cheddar cheese, grated
- 35 g dry white or wholemeal breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Bring a deep pan of water to the boil and add the beetroot stems. Allow them to cook for 1 minute, then add the leaves, cook for a further minute and drain.
Peel and slice the potatoes very thinly (so that you can almost see through them), using a mandoline or food processor.
In a jug, mix the cream and milk together and then stir in the mustard.
Grease the insides of the gratin dish (we used a little enamel baking dish) with a little butter. Add a single layer of potatoes to the bottom of the dish, season with a little salt and pepper, then scatter over a handful of the beetroot tops and a handful of grated cheddar. Continue with the layers until you've used up all the potatoes and greens. Pour over the cream mixture, and scatter the top with the breadcrumbs and a little more grated cheddar.
Pop the dish in the oven to bake for an hour and a half until the potatoes are cooked through, and the top is crisp and golden, perhaps with a little of the cream bubbling through to the surface.
Serve hot. This is lovely with a simple salad of watercress on the side, plus a few crunchy slices of pickled raw beetroot to cut through the richness of the creamy potatoes.