food stuff with Nikki Spencer
Most of us turned our noses up at it when it was dished out in the school canteen, but now beetroot is a hot favourite with fashionable chefs and cookery writers.

"Beetroot still does have a bit of an image problem," says chef Stephen Carter from the South Bank restaurant, The People"s Palace.

"People say they hate it, but then when they come here and try our beetroot tarte tatin they change their minds completely.

"Rather than boil the beetroot we roast it in its skin and it keeps the flavour in. It's almost as if it's a different vegetable," he adds.

Jason Atherton, chef at Mash and Air in Manchester, is another enthusiast. "I love the colour because it really peps up a dish visually, but also beetroot has a great texture and a fantastic, earthy taste."

Sainsbury's haven't been slow to pick up on this new-found enthusiasm for the red root vegetable. This month they are launching three new types of beetroot, one fresh, one ready-cooked and one soaked in Juniper juice.

According to Innovations Manager Brigette Hardy, beetroot is something we'll all be wanting to get a taste of. "People like to see a nice, old fashioned English ingredient get a new lease of life. We're being told that pink is going to be the in colour to wear this year, so why not put some on your plate too!" she adds.

Handle with care

Beetroot is messy stuff. Cook with it and you will soon discover why it's such a good natural dye. To avoid looking as if you have just taken part in a Murder Mystery Weekend, chef Stephen Carter recommends wearing surgical gloves.

Beetroot doesn't just stain your fingers... it stains your urine a rather alarming shade too.

I'm sure my friend Tony won't mind my mentioning that he made an emergency appointment at the doctors only to be asked "... and did you eat beetroot last night?"

Where to get your beetroot

For information on Sainsbury's new beetroot products call their Customer Care Line on 0800 636262.

Some local greengrocers stock pre-cooked beetroot. Golden and white varieties are also becoming more easily available.

The People's Palace, The Royal Festival Hall, SE1. 0171-928 9999. Beetroot Tarte Tatin is always on the menu. Mash & Air, 40, Chorlton Street, Manchester, M1. 0161-661 6161. Currently serving rib-eye beef with beetroot mash