It’s no good, I can’t help myself. Just one look at those cheeky little bunches of mauve-tipped spring turnips, erect white asparagus, baby carrots with all their greenery intact, tumbling leaves of fresh spinach and shouty pink radishes and I fall in love all over again. Did I hear someone muttering that vegetables are boring?? Forget it. Vegetable cookery – as I discovered when I wrote my curiously titled Eat and Two Veg (you have to ask a Brit to explain it) – can provide some of the most creative kitchen moments going. EVER.
At my Spring Farmer’s Market workshop this time last week I proudly laid out all the trophies I’d hunted down in my favourite farmer’s markets, farm shops and supermarkets and we got to work on our menu. Beets went into mini ‘panna cottas’ topped with Parmesan crumble. Peppers, courgettes and aubergines got the hots under the grill and in the ridged grill pan and were then interleaved in a terrine with fresh goat’s cheese and sun-dried tomato pesto.
Spinach was tumbled in a big pan, worked into a soufflé base, baked flat and then layered with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Leeks got together with prosciutto in a sort of posh pasty, which we served with a wild garlic pesto, while a wicked mix of kohlrabi, coco beans, baby carrots, navets and radishes met their match in a lightly spicy, vaguely Thai-inspired curry sauce with coconut milk, cilantro, lemongrass and lime leaves. We even managed to find a vegetable – rhubarb (yes, turns out it’s not a fruit) – for the dessert, which we did up in typically Alsatian style as a meringue-topped tart.
The recipe that almost stole the show was the beetroot ‘panna cotta’ with its Parmesan crumble – even a hardened beet-hater was won over by the delicious contrast of smooth, sweet beets + cream + a lick of Balsamic vinegar with the salty, crumbly Parmesan topping. We served them in small (100ml) glasses as a little amuse-gueule, but they’d work equally well in larger glasses or ramekins for a full-blown starter.
BEETROOT ‘PANNA COTTAS’ WITH PARMESAN CRUMBLE
Makes 8 x 100ml glasses
50g grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 sheets gelatine
2 cooked, peeled beetroot (about 300g), diced small
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
300ml whipping cream
Salt and white pepper
- For the crumble heat the oven to 180°C.
- Mix together in a food processor the flour, Parmesan, butter, thyme and pepper to give a crumbly consistency
- Tip the crumble out on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Remove and let cool, then break up the crumble.
- Cover the gelatine sheets with cold water and leave till floppy.
- Put the diced beetroot in a food processor or blender with the Balsamic vinegar and process or blend to a smooth puree – you’ll need to keep stopping the motor and squashing down the beetroot to make sure it blends smoothly and evenly
- Heat the cream in a small saucepan over gentle heat.
- Squeeze out the gelatine sheets, add to the warm cream and stir until dissolved.
- Add to the beetroot in the processor or blender and blitz till perfectly smooth.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Pour the mixture into glasses or ramekins, leaving a little headspace for the crumble, and put in the fridge to set.
- Just before serving, sprinkle on a thickish layer of crumble.