Consider the humble beetroot. It’s been around for centuries, and in the Middle Ages, it was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, particularly those relating to digestion and the blood.
Betanin, which is extracted from beetroot, is used as a red food colourant in a wide array of foodstuffs, including tomato paste, ice cream, jams and breakfast cereals. And of course, we all know just how effective it is as a colourant, the next morning.
But all of that aside, it is truly lovely to eat, raw, roasted, steamed, or pickled. I mean who hasn’t eaten grated pickled beetroot, or sliced pickled beetroot, or cubed pickled beetroot at a braai or alfresco lunch?
But as a carpaccio? A recent dining experience, revealed just how well beetroot lends itself to carpaccio, and it makes a welcome alternative to what we normally consider appropriate as a carpaccio: animal protein. Now don’t get me wrong: I love meat, but this is an alternative which really works well, and it affords one the opportunity to cater decently for vegetarians, and if you exclude the chevon, vegans as well.
Carpaccio – thinly sliced raw meat – was invented in Venice at the famous Harry’s Bar in 1963, by founder Giuseppe Cipriani, who made the dish for Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo, whose doctor had told her to eat raw meat. The dish was named after Venetian painter, Vitorre Carpaccio, who was known for the red and white tones of his work.
The deep blood-purple of classic beetroot – or even the purple and white variegated variety – therefore lends itself ideally to carpaccio. Although orange and yellow beetroot is something of a departure from the original incarnation, it also makes an eye catching carpaccio, so do play around with different colours, even on the same plate.
Beetroot is remarkably easy to work with, and while it is possible to boil or steam, then peel and slice it, it works particularly well when you roast the beetroot in the oven, because the skin sloughs off so easily.
At a push, exercising great care, you could probably slice it using a sharp knife, but if you really want to make carpaccio of consistent thickness, you’re going to need a mandolin vegetable slicer. The little beauty which we have has three settings, with two being the perfect thickness, but you are of course welcome to experiment with the settings on your particular device.
The flavour of beetroot is great in its own right, but it does lend itself to augmentation, so we ended up adding caramelized walnuts, goats cheese – a chevin to be precise – and wild rocket, to round off the dish, and it was lovely.
Ingredients, selection and preparation
2 to 3 medium beetroots: well rinsed and trimmed
1/2 cup (125ml) of walnuts
1/4 cup (60ml) brown sugar
1 tbsp (15ml) butter
1 handful rocket leaves: wild or cultivated. Wild rocket is darker green and really peppery, and the leaves are deeply serrated. Cultivated rocket is paler green, and milder in flavour, with oval leaves. Rinse well and chop roughly.
Olive oil and balsamic reduction
100g soft goats cheese (chevin)
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
Wrap the beetroots in aluminium foil, and bake in the oven for 60 minutes, or until the skin is soft.
In the meantime, medium heat a medium-size non-stick frying pan, add the walnuts, sugar and butter, and cook for about five minutes, stirring constantly to coat each nut thoroughly, and to avoid sticking.
Remove from the pan and turn out onto baking paper to cool and crystalise. Remove the beetroot from the oven when cooked, unwrap them, and place in cold water to aid peeling.
Slough off the skin, and set aside covered, to cool completely.
Using a mandolin, slice the beetroots carefully into rounds.
Arrange the slices overlapping, to cover four plates.
Garnish each plate with coins of chevin, caramelised walnuts and rocket, and anoint with balsamic reduction and olive oil to taste.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings