It was a privilege to be asked by the Organic Trade Board to be a part of their Organic Christmas supper club at Carousel in Marylebone a few weeks ago. Regular readers will know that I’m reasonably at home at Carousel, having done two residencies there over the last couple of years, so it felt good to be back – though it has to be said that doing a canape course was slightly less stressful than doing a whole menu! This time round I was just contributing one recipe, along with some other lovely food writers and chefs including pals Gill Meller, Anna Jones, John Quilter and Chetna Makan (who I cooked with recently for the Severn Sisters feast in Borough Market). We all put forward and cooked a recipe using our favourite organic ingredients to produce a feast in celebration of the joy that eating organic brings, and were supported by the fab chef team at Carousel to pull it all off on the night.
The idea was to raise awareness around provenance of produce at a time of year that revolves around eating and cooking, and to show that if you start with really beautiful products that have been cultivated in a natural and healthy way, you can really taste the difference. It’s not difficult for me to talk about why I’m such a fan of organic, and why, this Christmas, I’ll be opting for organic vegetables, pork mince, sausages and and other meats and wine.
Very simply, buying organic is a sure-fire way to ensure quality and to know that you’re buying into an ethical and sustainable food chain. For a food to be certified as organic means that there are fewer pesticides used in its production; no artificial additives and preservatives, and there’s been no routine use of antibiotics or any GM ingredients. Animals have been outside, grazed on pastures and felt the sun on their backs. Vegetables have been grown in healthy, fertile soil that is carefully cultivated and looked after meaning it will be fruitful for future generations, and the avoidance of chemical pesticides promotes the health of bees – the crucial beings at the heart of our fragile food system. Not only are organic ingredients healthier and more nutritious, they taste better and that makes me, and everyone I’m cooking for happy. If you would like to follow suit and get hold of some lovely organic produce this Christmas, whether for your cooking or as gifts, here’s a link to the Soil Association’s Christmas Collective Marketplace which has loads of brilliant things on offer along with stories about their producers.
It can be pretty tricky planning a cadent, multi-course menu with more than one cook, but the rest of the guys did such an amazing job – John producing the most delicious stuffed porchetta which Gill accompanied with some tender roasted beets on labneh and some seriously addictive roasted broccoli with bagna cauda (a creamy anchovy sauce). For the veggie main, Anna put forward her recipe for creamy celeriac, sweet garlic and sage pie topped with popped white beans (genius), while Chetna dazzled everyone at the end of the meal with a spectacular chocolate and hazelnut ganache tart.
My recipe, printed below – was for a Christmas canape with a difference – it’s a dehydrated beetroot crisp topped with a deliciously zingy raw beetroot chopped salad and some Sussex Slipcote cheese from High Weald Dairy – a fresh, light, slightly sharp sheep and goats cheese that worked beautifully with the beetroot. Beetroot is one of my favourite ingredients because it is so flavourful and versatile and can be used in so many different ways. Because it grows under ground I really think you can taste the difference when it’s an organic beetroot coming from fertile and healthy soil – and I love this recipe because it uses the beets in a slightly unconventional way that makes the most of their versatility – both as a tasty, intense dehydrated crisp, and as a refreshing and crunchy raw salad. We all know how much Christmas tends to be a time of overindulgence – so I thought starting with a light and crunchy snack might be a good idea, and they went down well alongside the rather more naughty festive cocktails from The Soul Shakers.
Organic dehydrated beetroot crisps topped with raw chopped beetroot salad and fresh cheese
(All ingredients to be organic where possible)
For the dehydrated beets
• 1 large beetroot, peeled and finely sliced
For the chopped salad
• 1 large golden beetroot, peeled and roughly chopped
• 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
• 1 sharp green apple, cored
• 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
• Small bunch of dill
• Juice of 1 lemon
• Salt and pepper
• 10ml rapeseed oil
• 100g fresh cheese
1.Preheat the oven to 110°C. Prepare some baking sheets with baking paper and lie the beetroot discs on them. Dehydrate in the oven until crisp and dry for a few hours.
2.To make the chopped salad, combine the beetroot, carrot, apple and shallots in a food processor
3.Add the dill, lemon juice and rapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper.
4.Blitz for a couple more seconds, until you have a finely chopped salad.
5.Taste for seasoning.
6.To assemble, place a spoonful of the chopped salad on a dehydrated beetroot crisp.
7.Top with a little of the fresh cheese and garnish with dill