Each month our chefs in the Curve create dishes containing the ‘seasonal fruit or vegetable’ of the month, this month we will be celebrating beetroot and pears!
Beetroot evolved from wild seabeet which is a native of coastlines from India to Britain. Two thousand years ago, prior to being modified by cultivation techniques, beetroot had a carrot-shaped root and only the leaves were eaten (the small root was used for medicinal purposes by ancient Greeks and Romans). The familiar rounded root variety was developed around the sixteenth century and gained widespread popularity in Europe a couple of hundred years later.
Today beetroot is common throughout much of Europe, and is used extensively in Scandinavian, Eastern European and Russian cuisine.
Beetroot should be firm with a smooth, undamaged surface. Smaller roots are more tender – avoid any larger than about 6cm in diameter as they may have tough, woody cores.
If you want to use the leaves they should be crisp, fresh looking and not too long or thick (if you don’t, it doesn’t matter too much if they’re a bit limp as they deteriorate much more quickly than the root).
Cut off the leaves and store in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge. The leaves should be used within a day or two but the root will keep for a couple of weeks.
Tender baby roots can be grated raw in salads. Mature beetroot can be boiled (better for smaller, younger beetroot) or wrapped in foil and baked (better for larger, older roots).
To preserve the beetroot’s colour and nutrients, rinse and brush clean but do not remove the skin or root until after cooking. Cook until a skewer easily penetrates to the core (anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours boiling or 1½ to 2½ hours baking at 180°C). You may want to wear rubber gloves when cutting and handling beetroot as the pigmentation leaves a pretty stubborn stain.
The leaves can be cooked like spinach – steam uncovered in a pan with a small amount of boiling water (around 1cm depth).
Take a look at our chefs recipe for beetroot and lentil burgers.
Another wonderful autumn treat, pears come in a range of flavours and textures and can be enjoyed in many different ways (other than as a delicious snack on their own). Exceptional when poached with red wine and vanilla, they are also stunning with chocolate as in the classic French dessert Poires Belle Hélène. Alternatively try them in salads or add to an after-dinner cheese board; they go particularly well with Pecorino or Roquefort.
Pears are usually picked when slightly under-ripe and they improve in texture and flavour after picking. Ripe pears have an inviting fragrance and yield to gentle pressure at the stem end but slightly firmer pears are usually preferable for use in cooking.
Choose pears that are undamaged and well-coloured. Russeting (a matt brown speckling on the surface) is normal on many pears.
Widely available UK/European varieties include:
- Willams pears – golden yellow or red-tinged, juicy and sweet but with a firm texture, good for cooking.
- With a long, thin shape and russet skin, Conference pears have very sweet and juicy flesh.
- Comice is a French variety viewed by many to be the best pear. Tender, aromatic and richly-flavoured.
- Concord – a recently developed Conference/Comice hybrid – is particularly good in dishes involving chocolate.
A pear’s window of optimum ripeness is smaller than that of apples. Store at room temperature to accelerate ripening and refrigerate ripe pears or those you won’t be using for a few days.
Prepare pears as you would apples, starting with a brisk scrubbing under running water. Rubbing cut surfaces with lemon helps prevent discolouration. The pips contain amygdalin – a compound that the body breaks down into hydrogen cyanide, although you’d probably need to eat your body weight in pears to receive a lethal dose.
Cooking times for pears vary depending on variety, ripeness and desired consistency. Test for doneness with a skewer. We find that if you start with firmish pears you can usually cook them for some time longer than recipe recommendations without detrimental effect.
Take a look at our chefs recipe for boozy pear trifles.
Make sure you check back to get more delicious recipes and check out next months seasonal vegetables! Have you used these seasonal vegetables this month? Let us know in the comments below.