Root Vegetables Part 1 – the Red Ones

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t got many ‘greens’ left in the garden.  However, I do have lots of root vegetables.  This year I’ve grown Carrots, Parsnips, Beetroots, Artichokes and Swede.  So here are a few of my favourite recipes for the Red Root Vegetables – Carrots and Beetroots.

Carrots

carrot cage

Carrots have to be the most useful vegetable invented, but they aren’t (in my hands) the easiest of vegetables to grow, on account of the pesky Carrot Root Fly, which used to eat its way through my entire crop.  I tried everything – carrot-root-fly-resistant varieties (yeah, right), and putting up foot high barriers that apparently stop the little blighters (mine can clearly do the high jump).  It was only when I discovered ultra-fine veggiemesh (from Gardening Naturally, but other suppliers are probably available) that I succeeded.  Now, from one square metre of garden, I routinely get a bumper crop of pest-free carrots that will last me well into next year.  And I do use a lot of carrots.  They’re brilliant for soups, in stews, as a no-nonsense vegetable (smothered in parsley or tarragon butter) or a fancy vegetable, such as gujerati style carrots, using the method for beans in my bean blog.  But these brilliant vegetables can also be used in sweet carrot and ginger cakedishes and cakes, carrot cake being the most obvious one.  There are millions of recipes for carrot cake.  Just google carrot cake recipe and see what comes up.  I just made a rather delicious cross between gingerbread and carrot cake – zesty carrot and ginger loaf.  It had the moistness of carrot cake with a good dose of spice from the ginger and a hint of sharpness from the lemon icing.  It’s supposed to keep well, but it didn’t get a chance!

Once you get your head around using carrot in cakes, the next step is a dessert.  Carrot halva is a delightful ‘pudding’ to follow an indian meal, costs virtually nothing and is a great way to use up extra milk and all those carrots.  If you make it yourself, it bears no resemblance to the rather solid squares of orange stuff you can buy in an indian supermarket, but is light and creamy.  It also freezes well (and helps you see in the dark).  This recipe is adapted from the one in Mahdur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery.  (Brilliant book.  Out of print now, but you can still get it)

  • 450 g carrot (two medium/large)carrot halva
  • 1 pt milk (600 ml)
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  •  50 g butter
  •  4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp sultanas
  • 1 tbsp pistachios, chopped

Peel carrots and grate in a food processor.  Add to the milk and cardamom pods in a carrot halve 2 croppedwide frying pan.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the milk disappears, stirring frequently.  This will take at least 30 minutes, maybe more.  Scrape to one side of the pan and melt the butter then fry the carrot mixture until it looks less wet and darkens a bit.  Add the sugar and sultanas.  Best served slightly warm with cold cream or crème fraiche (or ice-cream?)  Decorate with the pistachios before serving.  This amount serves 4.

Beetroot

I was brought up on pickled beetroot which really put me off this vegetable and it’s only recently that I’ve discovered how delicious it can be.  So it’s a shame I’m so rubbish at growing it.  I’m not sure what I do wrong, but I only get a few decent sized ones and the rest sulk at golf-ball size.  However, assuming you’re better at growing beetroot than me, here are a few things to do with it.  Beetroot and orange are a marriage made in heaven. For a beetroot and orange salad all you need to do is  boil your beetroot for 30 mins to 1 hr depending on the size or until a skewer goes through the beetroot and the skin slips off, slice it and drizzle it with salad dressing into which you’ve mixed a little grated orange rind.  Add orange slices too if you like and decorate with a little rocket for the colour contrast but don’t toss it together or everything will go pink.  This tendency to colour everything pink is a bit annoying, but there are times when it can be useful.  Added to a carrot and orange soup, beetroot (raw or cooked) changes the colour from a rather boring orange to a delicious deep pinky red.  (You can find the recipe for ‘The Best Soup in the World’ in my cat Oscar’s blog.)  Another Beetroot risottostunning dish, colour-wise, is beetroot risotto.  I boil the beetroot rather than bake it, then grate part of it into the risotto and add the rest, cubed, later, and I do the whole thing on the stove-top.   I find the basic recipe a little bland, so like to throw in some fried smoked pancetta, but other reviewers recommend goats cheese, which sounds nice.  Some cooked peas, added at the last moment, are a good addition for colour contrast. A dollop of sour cream with dill is also nice.  And, to make it even more low-carbon, try Scottish-grown barley instead of rice.

So that still leaves parsnips, artichokes and swede – the white root vegetables. But all of these will sit happily in the ground over winter, so watch this space in January …

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