Sunday, 29 August 2010

B is for... Baked beetroot, french bean, bacon, basil and balsamic salad

Starter

Baked beetroot, french bean, bacon, basil and balsamic salad

With pre-starters before it and several courses to follow, I felt a light, tasty salad would be just the ticket before the rare beef onslaught. When you bake beetroot, you don't need to peel it - a good scrub is all that's needed, so you don't have to worry about dying your hands purple for this dish. After scrubbing, I cut the beetroots in quarters and baked them in a tin foil envelope with some basil, whole garlic cloves, a couple of bay leaves, a good glug of olive oil, a generous pouring of balsamic vinegar and seasoning.

Allow 1 and a half  to 2 beetroots (6 to 8 pieces) per head and I used a whole head of garlic - you can use less if the volume scares you, but garlic has a much mellower flavour when roasted or baked. You can either serve the caramelised garlic cloves in the salad or discard them once they've worked to flavour your beets. Lay a big sheet of foil (about 4 metres) on the work surface and fold it in half to give a double thickness. Pop the beetroot, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in the middle and then simply fold the sides into the middle. Before closing, add the liquids and scrunch up the foil at the top to seal it. Place the foil envelope on a baking tray and bake for about an hour in a preheated oven at 200 C (180 C Fan). Insert a skewer into the beetroot to check it's soft and then let it cool down in its bag for a while before serving. The beetroot should ideally be served warm.

In the meantime, top and tail some french beans - about a handful per person should do it. Give the beans a rinse and blanche them for a couple of minutes, before draining and placing in ice cold water and draining again. If you don't immediately cool your beans down, they'll continue cooking and will lose all their crunch. They can sit around in a collander until you're ready to plate up. Make a dressing of 2 parts balsamic vinegar to 5 parts extra virgin olive oil, a couple of handfuls of finely chopped fresh basil and salt and pepper shaken up in a clean jam jar.

Once you're ready to serve your starter, dry toast a few tablespoons of pine nuts in a non stick frying pan (OK, so pine nuts don't begin with "B" but by toasting them they become browned pine nuts - so it's not a total cheat, is it?) and leave on a plate, now dry fry some smoked bacon cut into cubes (I find it easiest to snip it straight into the pan with a pair of kitchen scissors), until brown. To plate up, place a handful of french beans on each plate, 6 - 8 pieces of baked beetroot, some bacon, a few whole basil leaves, a drizzle of dressing and a scattering of browned pine nuts. You can chuck on some of your baked garlic cloves too if the mood take you and your light Summer starter is ready to serve.

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