The tail end of a long summer, and one of my favourite points in the year for food shopping. The last of the damsons sit in a cardboard punnet on the table alongside the green leaves of bunches of beetroot. The purple plums are destined for both breakfast treat and as a sauce for chilled rice pudding; the beetroot is for a late-summer salad.
Those deep maroon roots, a solidly reassuring presence in the fridge, are most welcome at my table when their sweetness is tempered by vinegar, citrus fruit or sharp-as-a-knife dairy, such as labneh, yoghurt or feta cheese. In tune with the crossover from summer to autumn, I made a dressing with honey and grapefruit juice and tossed the cooked beets with pomegranate, fat segments of pink grapefruit and a handful of pumpkin seeds. The salad sat comfortably next to a wooden board of thin-sliced gravadlax.
Beetroot comes to life with the briefest flash of a pickle (gherkins, onions or chillies will do the trick), but also from a splash of the pickling juice. Whisk a little into your usual vinaigrette or make one from scratch with olive oil, honey and chopped dill. And if you have made a beetroot gratin with cream and cheese and find it too cloying, you can make good by serving it with a jar of fat wallies or elegant cornichons. Their piquancy will temper the richness of the gratin.
The plum season is slowing down, the damsons are on their way out (I hope you froze some for winter), but are still making a daily appearance in my kitchen. Chilled, stewed plums have been turning up at breakfast (with bowls of runny, natural yoghurt) and under the sugary pastry lid of a pie, but also as a sweet asset for plain sponge cake or trickled on to a chilled rice pudding.
Beetroot and pomegranate salad
I suggest cooking the beetroots on the hob, but if the oven is on for something else, you could bake them instead, which brings an earthy intensity and sweetness.
beetroots 650g, small, the size of a golf ball
pink grapefruits 2
pomegranate 1, medium to large
pumpkin seeds 2 tbsp
For the dressing:
white wine vinegar 2 tbsp
olive oil 4 tbsp
juice from the grapefruit above 2 tbsp
runny honey 2 tsp
Remove any leaves or stalks from the beetroot, taking care not to cut through the beetroot skin. Put the beets in a pan, cover with deep water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat slightly and leave to cook for about 30 minutes, testing them occasionally with a skewer. The exact cooking time will depend on the size and age of the beetroots, but start testing at 30 minutes for the smallest. Anything larger than 3cm in diameter will take a little longer.
Slice away the peel from the grapefruit, taking care to remove any white pith. Slice into segments, removing any skin as you go and catching the escaping juice. Put 2 tbsp of the juice into a small bowl, then use a fork to mix in the white wine vinegar, oil and runny honey. Season with salt and a little black pepper.
Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the seeds. Drain the beetroot but don’t leave it to cool – they are best dressed warm. Cut the small beetroots in half, the larger ones into quarters or sixths, then put them in a serving bowl. Add the grapefruit segments, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds then pour over the dressing and toss everything together.
Rice pudding and damson sauce
There are so many ways to cook rice pudding, but this method – an adaptation of my recipe in Tender: Volume II – produces the most luscious result. A pudding that is thick and creamy, the grains swollen with cream and scented with vanilla. If there are no damsons, use plums, the darker the better, though you may need less sugar than if you are using damsons.
For the rice pudding:
full-cream milk 500ml
double cream 250ml
vanilla extract 2 tsp, or vanilla bean paste ½ tsp
caster sugar 50g
pudding rice 80g
double cream 125ml
For the damsons:
damsons or dark plums 400g
caster sugar 80g
Put the milk and cream in a deep, preferably nonstick, saucepan (I use one about 20cm in diameter), then bring almost to the boil. Stir in the vanilla extract or paste, then add the sugar and rice.
Lower the heat so it simmers gently and leave for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent it sticking to the saucepan.
Remove from the heat when the rice is plump and tender (test a little with a teaspoon) and set aside to cool.
Wash the damsons and put them in a large saucepan. Add the sugar and 125ml of water and bring to the boil. Let the damsons cook for about 10 minutes until their skins have burst and the juice in the pan is deep purple. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Stir the cream into the cool rice pudding and divide between six glasses or pretty dishes. Spoon some of the hot damson sauce over the rice.
Follow Nigel on Instagram @NigelSlater
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