Curiously our home in the country is lovingly known as ‘Blackberry Farm’, but I challenge anyone to find a blackberry on the land. We have wild, wild hedgerows laden with sloes, elder and a host of unknown berries, we have ancient majestic beech woods with lots of nettles, nut trees and ash, we even have a chalk down – but not a blackberry bush in sight. I know you can plant blackberry canes but somehow that seems wrong when the very mention of the name, ‘blackberry’ conjures up nostalgic childhood memories of foraging around and through hedgerows in search of black, squishy, treasure. So no blackberry picking for us, at least not at home. The little people have made up for this loss by raspberry raiding instead! Two years ago we planted some raspberry canes, finally they are baring fruit but any chance of them making it to the kitchen is small. Little hands seem to do more thieving and eating than preserving, and the delicate Autumn fruit vanish in a nano second. The same cannot be said of all our produce in the garden. Let me introduce a few ‘problem’ vegetables!
‘Curioser and Curioser’ – that is how I would describe our garden this year. At the moment we seem to be inundated with artichokes, beetroot, potatoes and rainbow chard, and when I say inundated – we really have eaten enough beetroot to turn us all pink. One can always find a home for potatoes and artichokes but as for the chard – well that is a different story. I am trying to educate my palate to rainbow chard, and trying to like it more. The problem is, there may be a reason why no one else eats it (in the garden that is), as strangely it is completely untouched by the slug and snail brigade, rabbits seems to keep a wide distance, basically it goes under the radar, no one really wants it! However, unlike a lot of other vegetables I planted this year it is one of the few things that has grown absurdly well. It looks stunning, a real splash of color and is great for filling gaps in the kitchen garden, one could almost say it is ornamental. So on that basis I set myself the challenge of trying to like it more, finding a good culinary use for it, as opposed to its existence for purely aesthetic reasons!
The slight issue with rainbow chard is, it is properly psychedelic – bright pink and yellow stalks with vivid green leaves – mood boards around the country shiver at the color combo! So at the risk of creating a really hectic dinner I veered on the cautious side. First off I tried it sautéed down with some spring onions in a smoked trout and chive tart – that worked, but probably only because the taste was over powered by the fish. Next we ate it ‘gratin style’, with cream and parmesan, what could go wrong? served with a little pink rack of lamb it was good but a bit too rich for me. Finally, I was left with the pasta option, lightly wilted down chard with a little garlic, chilli, toasted pine nuts, a few sultanas, a good slug of oil and freshly grated parmesan, it was transformed. It still tasted very healthy, even earthy, but it worked! It was really rather good.
I am not sure I am advocating going out to buy chard – I am not sure I would, but if you have grown it in the garden, this is not a bad home for it, teamed with pasta. But, if you don’t have chard and happen to have a glut of beetroot and tomatoes, do try this instead. You can have it as a stand alone salad as a starter, or as we did, alongside a shoulder of lamb that had been on the bbq, served with sweet chilli and tomato jam and a garden salad. I know I have ranted before about the ‘beetroot and goats cheese’ heavenly combination, so please forgive me, but coupled with some garden ripe tomatoes and a handful of fresh herbs, here is an easy, seasonal salad that can be created in minutes with virtually no cooking required! The magic with this salad is using different beetroot. For the first year ever golden and choggia (the pink candy striped one) beetroot have outgrown the classic red ‘bolthardy’ variety, I have had so much I have been giving it away, and beware if you come to dinner, you are bound to have this forced upon you!!
Golden, Red and Choggia Beetroot Salad, with garden tomatoes, goats’ cheese and fresh oregano
Serves 4 as a starter
1 kg (or just over) of golden, red and choggia beetroot – ideally apple sized!
250 gms of garden tomatoes
100gms (or more if you are cheese fan) of fresh goats cheese
1 handful of fresh oregano
Olive oil and freshly ground black pepper
A few small uncooked beetroot for shaving over the salad to finish!
1. Cook the beetroot – well here’s the dilemma – roast or boil? Boiling is easy and what is more, the skins slip off instantly. Roast, and the beetroot are sweeter and more intense, but because the skin blisters, peeling becomes a little ( and only a little ) more time-consuming. Your choice! Roasting does take longer so allow for this, about 1 hour – sometimes more, but obviously this depends on the size of your beetroot. If boiling, it normally takes about 40 minutes, slip a knife into the middle and it should come out easily – but still have a little bite as such! Let the beetroot cool completely before peeling them.
2. Halve and quarter the tomatoes depending on their size. Likewise cut the beetroot into 1 inch cubes. Crumble the goats cheese over the tomatoes and beetroot.
3. Now sprinkle the fresh oregano over the salad along with a good slug of olive oil and a good pinch of Maldon sea salt and grind of black pepper.
4. Lastly if you have a few very small beetroot, leave them raw and slice them extremely finely, ideally on a mandolin over the salad.
Sit back and enjoy – a wonderful, colorful, seasonal and healthy salad.