Beetroot contains betaine, a substance that relaxes the mind and is used to treat depression; the red pigment in beetroot passes harmlessly through the digestive system; betanins, a substance found in beetroot, is used to improve the colour of tomato paste, sauces, jams and ice cream.
Available all year roundA truly magnificent vegetable but, sadly, the beetroot’s reputation in this country has been ruined by one thing alone – malt vinegar, a lethal culinary weapon that kills off the flavour of anything it comes into contact with (apart from its affinity with pickled onions and its ability to counteract the fattiness of fish and chips). So the poor old beetroot is often despised as a consequence of formerly being confined to the pickle jar. Yet cooked as a vegetable, or in a salad, it has a superb earthy flavour and a wonderful rich, vibrant colour.There are two good methods of cooking beetroot – one is long and slow in the oven, which is suitable for larger, older beetroot; and the other is for the first small bunches of fresh beetroot that appear in June. To cook 1 lb (450 g) of winter-stored beetroot in the oven – try to use even-sized beetroot if you can – begin by pre-heating the oven to gas mark 3, 325 F (170°C). Now prepare the beetroot by leaving the trailing root intact but trimming the green stalk so only 1 inch (2.5 cm) is left. Wash well under cold running water, but leave the peel on. Now place the beetroot in a parcel of double foil, sealing well. Place the parcel on a baking sheet and bake on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven for three hours. To test if it’s cooked, you should be able to ease the skin away with your thumbs.For boiled beetroot, take one bunch of small summer beetroot, prepare as above and place it in a medium saucepan, then add salt and enough boiling water to barely cover. Simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until the skin eases away when pushed with your thumbs. Peel and serve hot as a vegetable or cold with vinaigrette in a salad.
Makes an 18 fl oz (500 ml) jar
Preserved properly, beetroot has none of the overpowering vinegar flavour that you all too often find in jars. Instead, it has a wonderful sweetness and flavour that makes it ideal with all cold meats and cheese.