Many British people believe that beetroot is no more nor less than slices of purple woody root vegetable kept in a jar of acid vinegar.
This perception is so deeply imbued that many actually grow to love the sensation of putting something in their mouths which causes involuntary pursing of the lips and a sudden inhalation of air.
When offered sweet baby beets that have never been subjected to pickling they become confused, even agitated. Inducing this sensation will give the cook much satisfaction and the guest a happier insight into a great British vegetable.
It is not always easy to find baby beetroots in the shops, but it is worth asking your greengrocer to get some. Dissuade him from boiling them himself and stress that vinegar is not part of your plan. Often beetroots come pre-packed, in which case they will be larger, probably cooked and already trimmed and peeled. If this is so, cut them into quarters. Beetroots bought by the bunch still with their leaves are smaller and much nicer, though inevitably more expensive.
Mise en Place
Put a large pan of lightly salted water on to heat • If necessary, trim the leaves off the beetroots, leaving about I cm / 1/2in of the stalks protruding. Cut off the straggly root tip. Chop the shallot finely and cut the spring onion across into rings.
Cook the beetroots for about 30 minutes in lots of the boiling water until tender (remember even young beetroots can be very woody).
Refresh in cold water and peel while still warm.
Melt the butter in the wide shallow saucepan and sweat the shallot in it until translucent. Add the beetroots, lemon juice and salt and pepper and turn to mix and coat. Pour round the cream to come half-way up the beets and stew, stirring from time to time, until very hot and the cream has turned an entrancing regal colour.
Transfer to a warmed serving dish, scatter with the spring onion rings and bring to the table immediately.
Ingredients – Beetroot and Spring Onions in Cream
450g / 1lb baby beetroots
1 spring onion
30g / 1oz butter
juice of 1 lemon
about 300ml / 1/2pt double cream
salt and pepper
wide, shallow saucepan to hold the
beets in a single close-packed