Beet that: Mark Hix sings the praises of beetroot

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It's healthy, versatile and delicious – and finally gaining the popularity it deserves

Beetroot is a remarkable, healthy and delicious vegetable that is fast becoming ubiquitous at the nation's most fashionable dinner tables – the days when it was simply pickled and served from a jar with salad cream have long since disappeared.

And it's not just about red beetroots either; if you frequent farmers' markets you will have noticed lots of different coloured and shaped varieties which can be turned into really interesting-looking dishes. I've often enjoyed seeing the puzzled looks on my guests' faces whenI serve them white and yellow beets at a dinner party.

One thing to bear in mind with beetroot is that they do take quite a long time to cook – a good hour or more to boil, and far longer if you decide to wrap them in foil and bake them in the oven.

Yellow or candy beetroot crisps

Serves 4-6

I find that yellow, white and candy beets make much better beetroot crisps than the red ones – I'm not quite sure why, but I think it's because the red ones contain more water.

250-300g yellow, white or candy beets, peeled
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
Salt

Heat about 8cm of vegetable or corn oil to 180C in a deep-fat fryer or heavy-based saucepan. Using a mandolin or vegetable peeler, slice the beetroots as thinly as possible. Fry the slices in the hot fat a few at a time, stirring to ensure that they don't stick together. They will take a while to colour (do not over-colour them) and may appear soft while they are still in the fat. Once they have been drained they will dry out and crisp up. Sprinkle with salt and leave them to dry somewhere warm.

Sweet beetroot tart

Serves 4

This may sound like a bit of a wacky idea, but it is not only delicious, but gloriously pretty as well.

250-300g puff pastry, rolled to about 2mm thick and left to rest for at least an hour
6 or so medium-sized red beetroots, cooked, peeled and thinly sliced
30g butter, melted
Icing sugar
Crème fraîche, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200C /gas mark 6. Cut the puff pastry into four 12cm discs and prick all over with a fork. Fold the trimmings over, wrap in clingfilm and keep for another recipe.

Put the discs on to a baking tray lined with siliconised or greaseproof paper, or re-useable Teflon sheets like Bake-O-Glide. Lay the beetroot slices around the pastry discs, overlapping them and tucking the last slice under the first to form an even pattern.

Brush the beetroot with butter and dust generously with the sugar. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the beetroot begins to caramelise, scattering more sugar and brushing more butter on halfway through cooking.

Serve with the crème fraîche spooned in the centre of the tarts.

Whipped beets with goat's curd and toasted walnuts

Serves 4-6

This is a slight variation on a Mediterranean houmous or baba ganoush. It makes a great dinner-party starter or component in a sharing mezze or buffet.

500g raw medium-sized red beetroots
4tbsp olive or rapeseed oil plus a little extra for drizzling
Balsamic vinegar to taste
Salt and pepper

To serve

80g goat's curd
16-20 good-quality walnuts, lightly toasted
A few sprigs of coriander
Flatbread, to serve

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4.

Put the beetroots in a roasting tray, cover with tin foil and bake in the oven for about 1 hours or until tender when the point of a knife is inserted into the beetroot. Remove the foil and leave to cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, gently rub the skins off – it is best to use rubber gloves for this if you wish to avoid staining your hands. Roughly chop the beetroots and blend with the vinegar and the rapeseed oil in a food processor or liquidiser until smooth. Season to taste, then spoon on to serving plates and spread with the back of a spoon. Spoon three blobs of goat's curd on top and scatter the walnuts over. Drizzle with a little more oil, and finish it off with a scattering of coriander leaves.

Serve with warm flatbread.

Beetroot and hare (or pigeon) salad

Serves 4

This makes good use of the tender fillets from the saddle of the hare (you can keep the rest, which can be used for braising or slow cooking). If you can't get hold of hare, you could use pigeon or rabbit instead.

2 fillets from the saddle of a hare
A little vegetable or corn oil for frying
2 medium-sized yellow or candy beets, cooked and peeled
2 medium red beets, cooked and peeled
A couple of handfuls of tasty small salad leaves, washed and dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

2tbsp good-quality red wine vinegar, such as cabernet sauvignon
6-7tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1tsp Dijon or Tewksbury mustard

Heat a heavy frying pan, season the hare fillets and cook on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side, keeping them medium rare. Leave to rest on a plate for a couple of minutes. Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season. Cut the beetroots into wedges and arrange on serving plates with the leaves. Cut the hare into thin slices and arrange in among the leaves, then season and spoon the dressing over.

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