How many beets does it take to make a party?
Four actually. Yep, just four young tender red beetroot, complete with all the dewy glory of their leaves as you pluck them fresh from the nicely watered soil, moist with last night’s summer rain. In no time at all, you’ll have a beetroot and lemon salad to die for, and a jugful of non-alcoholic Pimms-substitute that no-one will know from the real thing (except they can all drive home after the party without a qualm). Plus some lush spinach-like greens, wilted and tossed in butter to make a spinach tart or a spanakopita filo parcel with feta. Oh, and I’m guessing your raspberries are in glut too, so you can have raspberry jelly and thick cream for pud, and chuck half the berry juice in with the Pimms-taste-alike cordial. Sounds good? Here we go, all on a summer morning after a rough night with the thunder and monsoon downpour, when you venture out before breakfast to inspect the damage, and find everything bursting and lush from the blessed rain.
Thinly peel 4 young beets (about 300g peeled weight will serve 4 people), having reserved the cut-off foliage and stood the leaves in a jug of water to keep them fresh. Dice the beets and put into three quarters of a pint of water in a saucepan, along with the pared and chopped rind of 2 lemons straight from the fridge. Add 305g caster sugar and stir to dissolve. Add 3 goodly sprigs of fresh young rosemary, cunningly grown in a pot handy by the kitchen door. Don’t wash it – the rain has already done that.
Bring to a gentle simmer and cook covered for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the raspberries you thoughtfully gathered yesterday and put in the fridge can now simmer in enough water to fill a puddng basin, along with the raspberries and sugar as needed, plus half as much water again – go on you can work this out for yourself… Simmer 5 inutes.
Meanwhile soak 6 leaves of leaf gelatine in cold water to plump up.
Remove beetroot and strain. Reserve liquid for the cordial. Add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to the chunks. Cool. And chill in covered plastic tub, along with the yummy cooked (now pink) lemon peel. Leave the rosemary in till ready to serve.
Strain the lightly cooked raspberries and add to jelly dish. Top up with right amount of the raspberry liquid. Stir in the plump gelatine after pouring off the excess water. Cover, cool in water bath and chill to set.
Add the left-over raspberry juice to the beetroot cordial, plus the juice of the 2 lemons. Bottle and cool. If you use sterilised bottles and fill to the brim while very hot this will keep for ages, otherwise it will last for 2 weeks in the fridge.
During the relaxed hours before the party make the tart (with your own free range eggs new gathered, or some from your chicken-keeping friends round the corner), or go for broke with spanakopita with the aid of any good standard recipe (eg: spanakopita) using the wilted, buttered beet tops (without the stems). I always keep filo and ready-rolled shortcrust pastry in the freezer for spontaneous events like this.
If you start this process in the morning you will have your summer party supper ready by 6 o’clock without breaking a sweat, and the jelly should have set. At some convenient point, wash fresh salad from the garden and leave in the spinner in the fridge. At 5.30pm , tear and place in salad bowl and toss with favourite dressing (at the moment mine is olive oil, white wine vinegar, seasoning, honey and a lot of Mrs Bowles basil leaves). Warm some appropriately lush and crusty bread, and put unsalted organic butter on a platter.
At 5.45pm take a big crystal jug. Chuck in sliced strawberries and cucumber, ice cubes, mighty slosh of cordial and top up to foaming with lemonade (fizzy sort made with real lemon juice).
Serve all with a flourish and run a small competition to guess which 2 garden crops featured most in the stunning party fayre. (tip: print copies of the ‘Pimms’ recipe in advance. Or give them the link to this websiteJ – people will want to make this drink themselves.)
With love from Magic