While I’m very glad to have escaped the coldest Melbourne winter in 26 years by melting in Italy instead, I was a little sad to miss out on all the hearty winter comfort foods this year.
Fortunately, Melbourne spring is still pretty much winter anyway, and inside our freezing old stone house, I’ve still had plenty of reason this week to roast, stew and braise until the kitchen is steamy.
This beetroot stew is on a fairly regular rotation throughout the colder months in my house. Created out of desperation when the organic grocer had no other vegetables in those few weeks between seasons, it made me forget at first bite that I had hated cooked beetroot since childhood. Fabio asks for this all the time, and even my sister, who still hasn’t recovered from the trauma of the boiled beetroot of our youth, is a big fan. I love it when I’ve been feeling tired or run down. It’s easy, cheap, healthy, and really, really delicious.
The secret here is of course, with any dish where vegetables are the heroes, to choose fresh, organic beetroots and carrots. You don’t want to use old rubbery beets, as they will be bitter. Fresh beets lend this stew an incredible sweetness with just the right amount of earthiness.
To really make something really special out of this dish, I usually top it with a big chunk of my home made cashew ash chevrè. I haven’t had a chance to do any fermenting since I got back last week, but if you make your own nut cheeses, I really recommend using it here. I also serve it with bread brushed with olive oil and grilled in a cast iron pan, it really makes a difference.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large brown onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 medium beetroots, whole, unpeeled
2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch rainbow chard, washed, stems removed and roughly torn (alternatively use beetroot greens or silverbeet)
1 cup French puy lentils
600ml water (approx)
3/4tsp celery seeds
1 tsp dried marjoram
3 bay leaves
Couple of pinches dried thyme
1. Pierce the beetroots with a knife and wrap individually in foil. Place on a tray and bake at 180C until tender, 40 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the beets from the foil and let cool for 5 minutes, then rub off the skins. Cut the beets into 3-4cm chunks and set aside.
Optional: Place beets back on the tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, until slightly caramelised. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, cover the lentils in boiling water and cover with a lid. Let soak 30 minutes. Drain and rinse and set aside.
3. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over very low heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the carrots and bay leaves and cook until the onions are sticky and just starting to brown, stirring constantly. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring.
4. Add the lentils, water, remaining herbs and 1 tsp salt. Stir well then bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, approx 30-40 mintues. Add the beetroot and stir well. Cook another 5 minutes. Add the chard stir in until wilted. Add a little more water if necessary.
5. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and adjust salt to taste. Remove from the heat and let sit 10 minutes before serving. Ladel into bowls and serve with grilled bread.