recipe

Credit: Earl Carter

Winter vegetables

I like cooking in winter. I like winter food. I think that comes from growing up in Victoria – I always had four distinct seasons.

One of the things I like, when it is cold, is just turning the oven on to cook. A happy quirk of nature is that things that are available in season often work well together. Pears and game work, for example. Tomato and basil. Banana and passionfruit on a pavlova. And then, when the fruits drop off, the winter vegetables come in.

There was a time when all beetroot was canned. No milk bar salad sandwich is complete without canned beetroot. It brings texture, a little bit of vinegar, and nostalgia. It was there all year round, seasons be damned. But increasingly, fresh beetroot varieties are in markets in winter: little golf ball beetroots, which are slightly sweeter, as well as traditional larger beetroots or various heirloom varieties.

In this recipe the sweetness of the baby beetroot works well against the sour quality of the pomegranate molasses. They could be served in a salad, as they are here, or served warm, tossed in the same marinade.

Raw beetroot brings crunch and texture to a salad. I like it as a fresh pickle, shaved on a mandolin and tossed in a sharp vinaigrette before being left to macerate for a few minutes. At home I make a salad of cooked beetroot with walnuts and goat’s cheese, where I add a little fresh pickled beetroot at the end for texture. You could add some parsley, which is pretty much the only soft herb that makes it through the winter.

If I am using baby beets, I will remove any nice leaves, wash them, and throw them in at the end. Another winter by-product to cook is turnip tops, blanched or sautéed.

Beetroots have enjoyed a renaissance since their canned years. So have brussels sprouts, which have triumphed since their boiled days, when their place was to be overcooked as one of three veg beside a piece of meat.

The brussels sprout is a beautiful plant. As I’m writing this, a huge stem has just been carried into the restaurant – more than a metre of cabbage-like plant, with a little brussels sprout budding at each steam. At the base, they are mature and clustered thickly on the trunk. At the top, where the younger sprouts are shooting, they are delicate and well spaced, not much larger than peas.

When choosing your brussels sprouts for roasting, select them at a consistent size so they cook evenly. Always remove the larger, tired-looking leaves – they can dry out and burn, and are a little bitter.

Strangely, one of the best brussels sprout recipes I’ve eaten was raw. They were shaved and tossed with vinegar and a little parmesan cheese, which I should credit Annie Smithers for. Annie told me she would use only small organic brussels sprouts, because they are sweeter. We can thank Annie and a lot of other restaurant chefs out there for giving brussels sprouts a second chance.

Brussels sprouts

Serves 4–6

– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 1kg brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthways
– 6 cloves garlic, peeled
– 200g thick-cut smoked bacon, diced
– 50g butter, diced
– 4 sprigs thyme
– zest of 1 lemon
– salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the brussels sprouts to the pan cut-side down and gently sizzle until they start to colour.

Nestle the cloves of garlic and the diced bacon around the sprouts and continue to cook on a low heat until the bacon crisps.

Add the butter and sprigs of thyme to the pan. Raise the heat and continue to cook until the sprouts are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. If the sprouts are taking on too much colour, add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan to speed up the cooking.
 
When cooked, toss in a bowl with the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.

Beetroot salad

Serves 4-6

– 2 bunches baby beetroot
– 1 head Castelfranco radicchio (white radicchio) or red radicchio

Marinade

– ¼ tsp toasted ground cumin seeds
– 1 tsp pomegranate molasses
– 1 tsp lemon juice
– zest of ¼ orange
– pinch allspice
– pinch salt
– pinch sugar
– 2 tbsp olive oil

Trim the beetroots, leaving two centimetres of stalk attached. Cook in a pan of simmering water until they are just tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. While the beets are cooking, whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade.

When cooked, drain the beets and leave to cool to room temperature before slipping the skins off. Cut the beets into even-sized pieces, then stir them through the marinade. Leave the beetroot to marinate at room temperature for a few hours or in the fridge overnight.

To serve, toss the beetroots with torn leaves of radicchio, using some of the marinade to dress the salad.

Wine pairing:
2012 Bobar Syrah, from the Yarra Valley, Victoria ($28)
– Campbell Burton, sommelier,  Builders Arms Hotel

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 7, 2014 as "Second-chance sprouts". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.