Is It Still Not Spring Beetroot/Walnut/Cheese Salad and Celeriac Soup

It’s still February, and you know what that means. Root veg, each claggy with mud, boiled and mashed and turning up everywhere, even salads. Salt, fatty pork, as sausages or bacon or cubes of pancetta, and the bitter twist of brassicas in your mouth. A seeming need to put cheese on everything. Really now, how much longer can winter last? Isn’t it bud and sun time yet?

 

There is some new green about, though. My winter leaves out in the garden – mizuna, spinach, chard – are bigger than ever, and last week we got the first fresh salad bag of the year in our weekly veg from Chingford. They got put to use when thrown together with baked beetroots, walnuts and crumbly Cheshire cheese, in a recipe I’ve bastardised from somewhere (possibly Nigel Slater?).

 

Wash three beetroots carefully and wrap each one in tinfoil, then bake in a medium oven for about an hour and a half. When they come out and have cooled, rub the skins off with your fingers. Don’t go touching any white curtains or cushions after: instead, find a child (or, in a pinch, a drunk adult), wave your sticky pink fingers at them and go ‘wooo-ooo’. They will probably be unimpressed. Slice the beetroot into forkable chunks and wash your hands. On top, crumble one third of a normal supermarket-size packet of Cheshire cheese, and finally a handful of broken walnut halves. Empty the washed salad leaves on top and leave the salad in layers, pink, white, brown and green, til you want to serve it, and then toss the whole lot together. I dressed it with a vinaigrette made of lemon juice, olive oil, half a crushed garlic clove, salt, pepper and half a teaspoon of grain mustard.

 

One celeriac is a good sized thing to include in your mashed potato, camouflaged as it is by being approximately the same colour and texture when mashed (although it never loses a little rootliness). This gives a vaguely sharp, herbal undercurrent to your potato cushion and makes it go well with a salty, fatty meat thing sitting on top. Two celeriacs is too much though. You cannot hide two celeriacs, even in a baby’s buggy or behind a curtain. Two celeriacs have to be soup.

 

Celeriac looks a little bit like someone crossed a swede with a squid. They are wrinkled, tentacley, vaguely sentient-looking. They might be a scarecrow’s brain, or the giant dimpled molecule of an element from another planet. Once you cut away their wrinkly skin, though, and slice up the white flesh underneath, they are innocuous enough, although their herbal smell sticks to your hands. Fry some onions with cumin seeds, ginger and garlic, and then stir in the diced celeriac and a couple of peeled, diced potatoes when the onions are soft, topping up with stock. Cook until everything is tender, then throw in washed garden leaves for a little green to break up the flavour: buzz it with a stick blender until the soup is creamy rather than chunky. Let it cool a little. Swirl in yoghurt, and crispy cooked bacon, broken up into fragments. Clutch the warm bowl in your hands, spoon the thick, savoury soup into your mouth, dream of spring.

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Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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