Never would I have believed I’d make, let alone fall in love with a beetroot tart. I challenged myself to create a recipe using beets to beat those slimy, soggy vinegary memories of beetroot in sarnies and on Sunday tea tables of my childhood. I’m quite pleased with the outcome with a recipe that includes gluten-free pastry too; another self-imposed challenge. This bebbuxu likes beetroot too…
Beetroots have been bursting from the farmers’ market stalls for around two months or more and I am totally foxed as to what locals do with them. Beets conjure up memories of middle Germany and flat lands of the Ruhrgebiet around Düsseldorf where I once stayed with a penfriend. I remember open-cast mines, rather industrial towns and field upon field given over to various beets – beetroot, sugar beet and other roots no doubt. Who among us associates beetroot with the Mediterranean? Balsamic vinegar and feta for sure, but beetroot?
In fact, beetroot is a native of the Mediterranean. I learn something new every day. This link (scroll down on it) has the history of the beetroot from its becoming first known as a veg in 300 B.C. to its spreading to Germany and England in the 16th century. The Romans used it not just for culinary purposes but apparently also for its aphrodisiac properties!
The word beetroot to me though rekindles memories of summer days in England and Sunday tea salads in particular. Vinegar-oozing beetroots – sometimes baby, mostly older ones sliced – would appear in a glass bowl accompanied by a very useful pickle-pushing gadget to fork them out with. I never ate any. They stained numerous white table cloths, which were also a Sunday tea table favourite of my mother, who tried to ‘keep up appearances’ at least for this one meal of the week. Fine china used to crop up too on those occasions.
So, back to my original query – what do locals in Malta do with beetroot? Last week, I happened to be eating a snack out in Valletta during carnival and saw ftira (Maltese-style ciabatta in the round) filled with beetroot and baby spinach on the cafe menu. Out of curiosity, I ordered it. It tasted a bit earthy and the beet slices were a bland and slimy. Obviously fresh beets need some coaxing to sparkle as a main ingredient.
I’ve been experimenting since Christmas on and off with them and have come up with two ways to give them zing: roast the sliced beetroot up nicely til medium crisp, liberally sprinkled with sea salt and whatever soft herbs you have at hand; thyme and fennel fronds work well. That was all I did a week back when I made some beefburgers. Instead of serving them with potato chips, I placed roast sliced beets in the baps with a dollop of spicy mango chutney on top. I was very dubious that the husband would like the chip alternative, but he was thoroughly surprised at the flavoursome burger topping. That’s one recipe then – use instead of salad and chips with burgers.
A second idea is to use them pre-roasted in a beetroot tart cum quiche. Do roast them first as you’ll not get the sweet beet flavour (just a soggy-bottomed tart instead) if you place them raw in the pastry case. Crumbled feta, roasted beets and herbs like marjoram, fennel (fronds) or thyme are delicious. No need for that mango chutney as the beets and the nutty pastry I devised give this tart full-on (but not earthy) flavour. So daring was I with the whole beet thing in this recipe, that I used some beet leaves too; they are related to chard and very similar in taste, so ideal to use not chuck away.
All images © Liz Ayling 2014
- 6 medium-sized beetroots
- 3 beetroot leaves (younger stemmed)
- 3 large red onions
- 3 large eggs
- 100ml milk (approx.)
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- knob of butter
- 8 tbsp olive oil
- 200g feta, crumbled
- sea salt & fresh-ground black pepper
- This is a gluten-free pastry recipe but you can substitute my choice for regular strong white or half white and half wholemeal flours instead.
- 175g gluten-free flour (I used Dove Farm)
- 125g of ground nuts & seeds: such as almonds, walnuts and Omega blend of pumpkin, linseed, sunflower etc
- 150g unsalted butter
- cold water – around 5-6 tbsps
- pinch of sea salt
- Make up pastry: if you’ve whole nuts and seeds, place these in a food processor and whiz til finely ground. Then add the gluten-free flour (or your flour of choice). Combine the flours with a couple of pulses, then add the diced cold butter. Whiz until fine breadcrumbs and then, while on speed one, pour in water slowly watching to see the pastry come together. You may need more or less water depending on your flour’s absorbency. When large crumbs, tip out on a floured surface, combine with your hands and then knead gently into a smooth ball. Wrap in greaseproof paper and chill for at least half an hour.
- Preheat oven to 200°C. Place a baking tray with a couple of tbsps olive oil in the oven to heat. Prepare the beetroot, topping and tailing and then peeling and cutting into medium-thick slices. Toss them onto the pre-heated baking tray, covering them with the oil and sprinkling with a little sea salt and some chopped fennel fronds (optional – or use another soft herb of choice). Return to the oven and bake for around 30 mins until crisping up but not over dry or wafer thin.
- Meanwhile, peel and slice the onions thinly and sweat down in a heavy-bottomed pan (lid on) with a little butter and olive oil melted in it first, over a low-medium heat for around 15 mins. When translucent and soft, splash in the balsamic vinegar, stir, let it evaporate and then switch off the heat.
- Whisk the eggs in a measuring jug and top up the level with milk to 400ml. Roughly chop the beetroot leaves, removing any large central stems. Stir the shredded leaves into the egg-milk mix and season.
- Roll out the chilled pastry to fit the quiche tin, allowing a good 1cm standing proud above the tin top. Brush the inside of the pastry shell with a little milk. When your beets are cooked, remove them, lower the oven to 180°C and bake the pastry case blind for about 8 mins until just firming up and the milk coating seals.
- Remove the flan tin with its pastry case and add the filling: first, spread the caramelised onion over the base, then a layer of the sliced roast beetroot, followed by some crumbled feta. Pour on the egg-milk mix and then finish with a layer of sliced beets and some more feta. Sprinkle with your herb of choice.
- Bake for 30 minutes until the pastry is going golden on the edges and the tart filling has risen and is cooked. Remove, cool for a few minutes on a wire rack, then serve warm with some more feta and herbs on top. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil too, if desired.