Red roots and leaves.

This Radicchio di Treviso; some ruby beetroot; a red cabbage which was more purple than red – ‘tyrian purple’ our friend announced, the colour of the imperial robes of roman emperors, which somehow made the lunch grander and might be useful for trivial pursuit one day; two red onions and lots of scarlet fleshed oranges. It has been a week of red roots, food, hands, tempers for an hour or so (mine, very petty, I blame the rain) and bay leaves,


My favourite, the radicchio di Treviso sitting at the top next to the chair, is a extraordinary leaf chicory from Teviso near Venice in northeast Italy that has alluring deep red leaves and very thick white veins. Radicchio di treviso has a bold character, it’s the epitome of a bitter-sweet leaf, with a warm, spicy peppery aftertaste. We don’t find it in Rome very often and when we do we usually eat it just so, as a flaming salad leaf. But occasionally, if I find more at the market, we bake it.

Baking softens the flavours of radicchio, taking some of the edge off the bitterness and encouraging its sweetness and it’s curious and distinct flavour. The leaves collapse and wither like old rags which sounds terrible, actually it’s quite charming. Well I think it is charming, but then I think the delicious insides of a baked aubergine, which look like an old dirty dishcloth slumped the colander, are charming!

We baked two of the four bulbs to go beside a very plain risotto for lunch on Monday, a delcious combination. I cut each long bulb in quarters lengthways, then tucked the eight wedges into a well oiled oven dish. Salt and freshly ground black pepper, more olive oil and a bay leaf, before I covered the dish tightly with tin foil and baked it for about 30 minutes in a medium oven.


I bought beetroot, a small red cabbage and some really big, plump, Sicilian salted capers to make a Fergus Henderson’s Red salad.

I have been promising myself this ever since I read Ruth Reichl’s post back in December, the ‘kind of deconstructed borscht.’ It is a most striking scarlet salad of raw grated beetroot, red onion, red cabbage and caper dressing which you top with a big blob of creme fraiche. You then proceed to jumble the whole thing up into a delicious pink mess.

I misplaced the creme fraiche ignoring maybe one the most wonderful recipe instruction I have ever read – nustle your blob of crème fraîche as if the two ingredients were good friends, not on top of each other as if they were lovers.

A red salad.

2 raw beetroot, peeled and finely grated
¼ raw red cabbage with its core cut out, very finely sliced
1 small red onion, peeled, cut in half from top to bottom and finely sliced
6 healthy dollops of crème fraîche

Healthy splashes of extra virgin olive oil
A little gesture of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
A small handful of extra-fine capers
Sea salt and black pepper

Mix everything together for the dressing. Toss all your raw red vegetables in the dressing, then on six plates place a bushel of this red mixture. Next to this, nustle your blob of crème fraîche as if the two ingredients were good friends, not on top of each other as if they were lovers. A very striking salad ready for the eater to mess up.

I think will be making this salad alot, it will be delicious with pickled herrings and vodka.


I must admit that I still am extremely fond of beetroot that come in families of four. Ones that have been boiled to near death and preserved in a rather solid, surprisingly heavy, thick moulded plastic vacuum pack. Do you know the ones? My feelings are largely sentimental, this was the beetroot my grandma Roddy used to buy in west yorkshire when we were young. She would cut each ruby ball in very thick slices and then douse them with lots of very strong English malt vinegar and serve it for tea with corned beef. We would shudder, eat and laugh at our very very red mouths and beetroot juice speckled clothes.

I am however even fonder of slightly shriveled, sweet, intensely flavoured, roasted beetroot with garlic and bay leaves.

I first had this roasted beetroot when I worked as a waitress at the Duke of Cambridge pub and it’s sister pub the Crown in London. There was a fantastic chef called Caroline who would roast vast trays of these wonderful English organic beetroot. Each bulb was cut in two, put face down in a very well oiled baking tray with lots of whole but squashed cloves of garlic, some bay leaves and probably more olive oil. The tray was covered snugly with tin foil and then put in a hot oven for about 50 minutes when the bulbs are very tender to the point of a knife. Caroline would serve the beetroot with a dressing made from olive oil, balsamic vinegar and the soft baked garlic squeezed from the skin.

I got very red hands paring away the skin from the beetroot for lunch, plastic gloves would have been sensible but of course I didn’t have any. I separated another head of raddichio into curls and hard-boiled four eggs before arranging everything on a big plate along with the garlic from the roasted beetroot.

I made mayonnaise too – following Elizabeth Davids recipe – for the first time in ages and promised myself I will make it more often. I stirred a spoonful of very hot horseradish in the creme fraiche and cut the sour dough bread from the bakery Passi.

Another deconstructed lunch which required a certain amount of messing up, mayonnaise on eggs, creme fraiche on the beetroot, more mayonnaise scooped up in the curl of the radicchio, garlic squeezed out of its skin, everything squashed on the bread, more olive oil ( I was sorry we didn’t have any sweet-cured herring fillets, next time!). A rather mad looking plateful by the end, all pink and cream coloured and very very tasty.


I had hoped to have finished a post about the rabbit I cooked last weekend by today……. but I haven’t, which is rather frustrating, hence this rather ad hoc, bits and pieces red week post……..Oh yes, maybe we are thinking the same thing, if you prefer to pet rather than eat rabbit you will probably want to ignore my next post. Have a good weekend.


Filed under food, odd posts, olive oil, Rachel's Diary, recipes, salads, vegetables

53 responses to “Red roots and leaves.

  1. Vacuum-packed beetroot always reminds me of Bert Baxter from Adrian Mole and his beetroot sandwiches!

  2. But, I have really enjoyed your Red Week! Mad for the color and all the variations (vacuumpacked beet root must be a UK thing—unknown in my parts)

    I’ll have to try the gorgeous Red Salad and I like the use of bay leaf in the roasted dish—good idea.
    I’m not a glove wearer; I never mind the beet-stained hands.

    mixed feelings about the upcoming rabbit—but you know I shall still check in…

  3. I want to sit down next to the flowers and dig in. I’d welcome everything onto my plate and a great mess of this and that hosted by bread would be had.

    Looking forward to the rabbit…

  4. coconutandquinoa

    Imagining the messy plates makes me hungry! Looks like a delicous lunch, so many tasty combinations to be had on that good looking bread…

    • rachel

      Yes, the bread is good, our flat may be tiny, really tiny but we live above a bakery that makes the most excellent sourdough bread called Passi.

  5. this may be my favorite post ever
    this to me is perfection
    which is surprising as it’s neither cake or pasta
    but i love every little thing about this
    and you know, as wonderful as herring is – a tin of good sardines may have worked too…

    • rachel

      Yes, you are right the sardines (which i have 3 tins of) would have been perfect, I am almost annoyed, they were in the cupboard above our heads while we ate.

  6. I am really looking forward to a rabbit post!

  7. i’ve been really into red foods lately too– radicchio, beets, blood oranges, pomegranate. lovely post and unusual recipes!

    i LOVE rabbit. i can’t wait for the recipe.

  8. Yikes – great minds think alike! I posted about radicchio today too! A radicchio salad with a green olive dressing.

  9. Gloriously red week, full of some of my favourite vegetables. Well actually my favourite vegetable – as in beetroot. That salad looks like a corker. I also like the way you’ve roasted the beetroot. I usually do mine whole, with thyme and straight olive oil, but the bay leaf and balsamic is sounding really, really good. Lovely stuff.

  10. Ciao Rachel, che belle foto….

  11. looks like you had quite the delicious and lovely week! i really enjoy seeing all of your photos. and, um, i want that mayonnaise!

    • rachel

      hello Sarah
      I hadn’t made mayonaise for ages, I’d almost forgotten how
      easy and lovely it is. Highly recommended for grey days.

  12. so, so lovely. hmmm…that red salad is calling my name. this weekend, yes…tomorrow i think it would be perfect for lunch.

  13. Heaven on a plate – again! I love beetroot, but unfortunately Mr OC is a touch phobic about it. It’s the pink seepiness of it he can’t bear, so I rarely get to eat it and nowhere near as much as I would like. I am going to try to remember to plant the golden variety this year. Surely he can’t object to that? That mayonnaise looks absolutely delicious and so very yellow, perfect.

  14. Lucinda

    Funnily enough I just left Treviso, where some friends made me the best lasagne of my life – filled with delicious radicchio! It was surprisingly sublime and not wet-raggish-looking at all – the radicchio looked more like little purple rugs tucked into a big warm bed of pasta and bechamel. Oddly pretty and very appetising indeed.

  15. I adore this post and am now craving beets. Oh and in the future I will be nestling all ingredients as either lovers or friends – but not both.

    I had a rabbit as a pet growing up and I can’t wait to read your next post. Does that make me heartless?

  16. Your writing is so elegant, Rachel – I have enjoyed this post very much, coming back to it three times now to be sure it is well digested. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of the, “the most wonderful recipe instruction I have ever read.” I have never seen such beautiful radicchio nor have I ever attempted baking such – I will try this method. Again, I have never baked beets, I must also admit, and find this recipe the most tempting I’ve seen of late. Thank you, and I relish in the thought of the forthcoming rabbit!

  17. “nustle your blob of crème fraîche as if the two ingredients were good friends, not on top of each other as if they were lovers.” — Oh, I love this too!

    Your deconstruction looks fabulous.

  18. Wow, what colors! The reconstructed meal is gorgeous. What a great way to display the beautiful ingredients. All the flavors sound so good to me right now. I have been using beet a lot lately myself. Thank you for the new recipe ideas!

  19. I’m imagining a big plate with lots of your roasted beetroot, goats cheese and good crusty bread for lunch and, yes, I am fond of the vac packed variety as well. Anyway, your red week looks ruddy marvellous and I am eagerly awaiting your rabbit post! Gx

  20. Luke

    Surprised at how much the bay came out in the beets. I love bay leaf and will definitely be making these regularly. Really appreciate your site!

  21. Stunning, this salad, like a deep winter nicoise. Can’t wait to give this one a go.

    • rachel

      thanks Molly
      that’s a very nice way to descibe it and is making me think some boiled potatoes and black olives would be good too.

  22. oh all the dishes look SO beautiful, R. i love the deconstructed borscht, it’s so dull and grey here, i’d love to have smthg red and intense. i wonder, is anyone as idiotic as i am to have followed ED’s instructions for mayo and whipped it by hand? NEVER AGAIN. pain. love the radicchio from Treviso, the first time i had it was in a restaurant in rome called ciccia bomba, a colleague’s husband had done the interior there, so we all went there for lunch. i had the radicchio with taleggio. utter heaven. you have had a gorgeous week, lovely of you to have shared it here with us. ps i read that if you peel the skin off the beet beforehand, it will not stain your fingers- it works like a charm.

    • rachel

      thankyou for the beetroot advice !
      Yes me !, I always make mayonaise by hand (which is odd because I am fundamentally quite lazy) but I really like it
      probably because i don’t do it very often or in very large quantities – I don’t use a wooden spoon though, i use a
      a whisk, which i’m not sure ED approved of.
      wish i could send you some sun from Rome x

  23. lo

    Red is the color of mid-winter, isn’t it? Not only gorgeous to look at, but tasty too. I love that you’ve shared your week with us. You’re making me crave grilled radicchio, which I probably can’t have until summer… but that’s OK. Gives me something to look forward to.

    • rachel

      Hello Lo
      Yes, i agree! and yellow too, like the sun. Talking of which, it feels a bit like spring in Rome today, the sun is trying its best even though I fear it is about to be swallowed up by a big cloud.

  24. alice kiandra

    ciao bella rach….ci mancate tutti voi a roma…love all your recent work…just gets better all the time…especially the snaps… down under is good, we miss some things (me pane lariano, leo il caffe, alberto il gelato da ceccho…everyone misses that really) here we are lucky to have the wonderful cardamone supermarket down the street where pecorino romano e pancetta are available for a homesickness matriciana…baci

  25. This all looks beautiful.

    Have you ever made a salad/pesto with radicchio mashed up with garlic, oil, and lemon? The bitterness is the perfect counterweight to rich, fatty meat things. I like to add a little truffle oil too.

  26. Pingback: Pleasingly bitter | rachel eats

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