With its beautiful deep colour and sweet flavour, beetroot is a versatile vegetable to cook with. The results are always comforting and full of flavour, as well as attractive; thanks to the pink kiss it gives to everything it touches. Having planted an entire pack of beet seeds this year (thanks to an incident on the way home from the shop involving a bucket and a very well-watered plant, which resulted in a completely saturated seed pack) we’ve had one or two to experiment with.
Last year, I used up the surplus in a batch of beetroot and apple chutney, alongside some gifted apples from my parents’ abundant harvest. Sadly this year the apple tree harvest didn’t go quite so well, and in the absence of apples, I have decided to commit myself to discovering ways to enjoy as many of the beetroots as we can while they’re at their best.
Often I enjoy them most when simply boiled and sliced into salad. The flavour from our home grown vegetables is so much more intense than the supermarket versions that hardly any ‘messing about’ is needed to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables!) of our labour. But there is only so much salad you can eat, especially as the days and nights turn colder. Hot food options are definitely on the menu for me at this time of year!
After a bit of playing about with ideas and some heavy googling, I decided that while I could roast them with other root vegetables and enjoy the results very much, in my view, everything in autumn and winter is better when eaten with pastry. And if I was going to make this a pie or tart, then why not an open top version, finished with grated cheese and fresh herbs? Now I was getting somewhere.
Beetroot goes wonderfully well with creamy cheeses like goat’s cheese (a combination found in many a vegetarian starter when eating out) so why not ricotta? Why not spread a creamy carpet of ricotta cheese, flavoured with herbs and nutmeg, and top with mini pieces of deep pink beetroot and potato, fresh thyme and chives (and of course the grated cheese on top). I couldn’t think of a good reason why not, and the result is rather lovely: a crisp pastry crust, with a sweet-savoury filling. The only ridiculous thing about this recipe is that while I created it to move away from eating salads in October, a green salad was exactly what I served it with.
Beetroot, potato and ricotta tart recipe
Cooking time 25-35 minutes, serves 4
3 medium sized raw beetroots
3 medium potatoes
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp harissa spice (or mixed herbs if you prefer)
200g ricotta cheese
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp mixed herbs
Small handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
250g puff pastry Oil (use rosemary infused oil for extra flavour)
Plain flour to roll out the pastry
Cheese for grating on top
Preheat the oven to 180º fan, and line a baking tray with greaseproof baking paper.
Wash, peel and chop the beetroots and potatoes into 2cm chunks. (Fair warning: raw beetroot will stain everything pink if you let it!)
Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a pan, and add the bay leaf, thyme, beetroot and potato.
Fry gently over a medium-high heat until the vegetable pieces are sealed on the edges and starting to crisp. Remove from the heat.
Mix the ricotta, herbs and nutmeg together in a separate bowl.
Roll out the pastry on a floured surface, until it’s a large rectangle, about 0.5cm thick.
Place the pastry onto the baking tray and gently score a 2cm border around the edge.
Prick the pastry inside the border with a fork to prevent it from rising, then brush around the edge of the border with a little oil.
Spread the ricotta cheese over the centre section of the pastry up to the scored border then top with the beetroot and potatoes. Leave out the bay leaf.
Sprinkle over the chopped chives, and bake in the oven at 180º fan for 25-35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and has risen to form a crust.
Remove from the oven, grate over a little cheese of your choice, and serve immediately with a fresh salad and potato wedges.