Most Australians will have some memory of soggy lunchtime sandwiches. When I think of the sandwiches of my childhood, they were most often sliced multigrain bread filled with lettuce, grated carrots, tinned beetroot and a slice of plastic cheese. The beetroot always left a red stain on the bread, on my hands, on my school uniforms. And they almost always made the sandwiches soggy, something which made me vow never to eat sandwiches again the moment I left school and discovered the world of student cafés and restaurants at university.
Not only did I stop eating sandwiches, but I also avoided beetroot as much as I could. Growing up, my only encounters with beetroot were with the tinned varieties; I didn’t even know what they looked like in their natural state until quite recently.
And then began a slow reintroduction to this beautiful vegetable. One summer, my French mother-in-law made an utterly delicious, and utterly refreshing, beetroot salad comprising simply of cooked and diced beetroot dressed in a spiky vinaigrette. I made a mental note to recreate this salad the moment we got home, only to learn later that this beetroot salad was to my husband as a child what tinned beetroot was to me. He recalls endless summers where his parents would receive beetroot in abundance from the neighbour’s garden (along with copious supplies of cauliflower). My mother-in-law-, being a good cook but not an adventurous one, knew only of one recipe using beetroot.
My poor husband now has to endure the same salade de betteraves of his childhood which I make rather frequently during the summer, along with roasted beets which I love serving alongside grilled meats.
When I came across this recipe for Caramelized Beetroot Tarte Tatin by Mimi Thorisson, I knew it would be a winner. Well, at least for beetroot lovers. I think the tart is intended to be served as a meal in itself with perhaps a salad on the side, but knowing that my family don’t share my love for this earthy vegetable, I served the tart as a side dish to some grilled lamb. It’s a beautiful way of serving beetroot and I hope my family will one day be converted like I have been.
For the French speakers, you might enjoy this episode of La Table de Mimi where Mimi Thorisson makes this Caramelized Beetroot Tarte Tatin in the first segment, followed by Snails in Bordelaise Sauce and Pomegranate Meringues. (Note: there might be geographical restrictions to watching this video online.)
- For the filling:
- 800g-900g raw beetroot
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar (I used light muscovado sugar)
- 2 tablespoons butter, plus extra
- 1 large red onion, sliced thickly
- 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- chives, finely chopped
- For the pastry:
- 200g (1½ cup) plain flour
- 125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold and diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 2-3 tablespoons cold water
- Cook the beetroot in a large pot of salted boiling water for 2 to 2.5 hours until they are cooked and tender. You can test if they are done by inserting a skewer through a beetroot. If the skewer slides in and out easily, the beetroot is ready.
- Meanwhile, make the pastry. I like to make my pastry using a stand mixer. Using a flat paddle attachment, mix the butter into the flour on low speed until the mixture looks crumbly. Add the salt, egg and half of the water. Continue mixing until everything comes together into a ball, adding more water if necessary. You could also make the pastry by hand by simply rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingertips, and then mixing in the remaining ingredients.
- Wrap the pastry in some clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
- When the beetroot is cooked, remove them to a large colander to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel the beetroot and slice them into large quarters.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Butter a large tarte tatin dish or a large cake pan (about 23 cm in diameter).
- Place the sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, add the butter and stir everything together.
- Add the onions and beetroot, and cook for about 10 minutes until they start to caramelise, stirring frequently.
- Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. Season with salt and pepper. Take the pan off the heat.
- Arrange the beetroot on the bottom of the tarte tatin dish (or cake pan), and then spread the remaining mixture on top.
- Roll the pastry into a circle large enough to cover the dish with a few centimetres overhang. Place the pastry on top of the dish, fold over the edges and press gently to seal the pastry together.
- Place the dish in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.
- Leave the dish to cool for about 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a large serving plate. Garnish with chopped chives.
Beetroot has a way of staining everything red, if you are not careful. When peeling beetroot, I like to wear plastic or surgical gloves, or even dishwashing gloves will prevent you from looking a bit Lady Macbeth. I even have a cheap wooden board specifically for cutting beetroot (which I also use for other veges) as the red juices will leave an almost permanent stain.
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