I had an old friend coming to dinner. There are doses of comfort and pressure when feeding old friends. Comfort in that you hope no matter what you cook it shouldn’t matter- they’ve come to see you.
Pressure in that you need dinner to be a non event. What they haven’t come to see is you; flustered and flurried in a kitchen.
What I want is a few simple platters. Some terrine and cheeses, perhaps a few radishes, butter, salt and bread to start. This can be laid out. All I need to think about is popping a cork on a bottle of champagne and letting the conversation roll.
Then I want some protein that can be quickly prepared- game birds like duck, partridge, or even when we were back in Australia- kangaroo- are what I often call on; a hot pan, some proper seasoning and 10 minutes. Then they’re ready- rosy pink and blushing like an eager school girl.
It needs a nice salad; leaves made more interesting with a few toasted hazelnuts and some fine slivers of red onion that you’ve let steep in sherry vinegar so they lose their aggressive bite.
All that’s left is a killer side dish. This is where the beets come into play.
They’re robust enough that you don’t need to scraping around for potatoes or starches to fill the table. When roasted in their skins, protected under a canopy of foil they become stickily sweet. On their own they’d be fine. But a grating of bitter dark chocolate really makes them sing.
Beetroot and chocolate have long been friends- the internet is teeming with recipes for their escapades in chocolate and beetroot brownies, whoopie pies and cake pops.
The chocolate adds murky mystery, the beetroot a pungent sweetness. They bring out the best in each other. They don’t often get a chance to meet up on a savoury platform. I think this needs to change.
They hold each other up. They bring out the best in each other.
They’re the perfect thing to serve an old friend.
Roast beetroot with dark chocolate
Serves 4-6 as a side dish. It’s excellent with kangaroo, duck or any game birds.
1 roasting tin. 1 microplane/ grater. Tin foil.
2 bunches of fresh beetroot (best if you can get varying colours)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of sea salt
2 tablespoons of grated very dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids, but 85%- 90% is best).
Here’s how we roll
1. Heat the oven to 200C/ 400 F. Wash the beetroot to remove any dirt and trip the stalks to leave a few centimetres of stalk left.
2. Ensure all the beetroot are around the same size. If some are markedly different, cut them in half to get an even cooking time.
3. Drizzle the beetroots with olive oil and season with salt.
4. Cover the roasting tray with foil. Place the beetroots in the oven and bake for 1.5- 2 hours.
5. The beetroots should be cooked well enough for the skins to peel off in your hands. (nb, allow the beets to cool a little before you start trying to peel off the skin.
6. Grate the dark chocolate over the top of the beets. Season with a little extra salt and pepper. You can serve these either hot or warm.