Asparagus, fennel and beetroot with verjus


Just when I thought Ottolenghi was infallible – I made this.

On paper it was going to be great. Three of my favourite ingredients are beetroot, asparagus and fennel – and they are all in this dish. And they all require no cooking (unless you’ve roasted some raw beetroot).

Actually – it’s worth making the comparison here between the shop bought stuff that has been prepacked – and buying raw beetroots and roasting them. The stuff in the packet just doesn’t have the flavour and generally has a very high water content – it’s a poor imitation of the real thing.

Often books ask you to boil them in water – or roast them wrapped in foil. I do neither. I simply top and tail them – put them in a Halogen oven and roast them – with no oil – just as they are – until they are tender – which generally takes 40 minutes. Let them cool – peel them – and they will be so tasty and not at all wet.

Anyway – back to the recipe. There are only two other ingredients to this recipe. Pinenuts – which you toast at the end – and Verjus.

I first saw Verjus when I watched Australian Masterchef. The Australian format of Masterchef is far superior to the UK version – far more engaging – and you really get to know the competitors and the hosts/chefs. Anyway – on the show they visited the farm of Maggie Beer. She used verjus in one of her recipes and sung its praises so I was curious to get some.

Verjus is a highly acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit (says WIKIpedia). This is quite an understatement – it’s MEGA acidic and sour. I tasted it before I carried on with the recipe! 

The recipe wants you to reduce 320ml of this very sour juice down to 3 tablespoons – 45ml. So make it even more sour and acidic. I have to say the result was intense.

I’m quite well known at work for liking really sour sweets – and really salty liquorice. I’ve yet to be defeated on the sour sweets – but I reckon the reduction of this verjus could be used to create a monster! It was probably the most sour thing I’ve tasted. Maybe there are different sournesses (is that a word) of Verjus – I hope so – otherwise I’ll never use this ingredient again.

The dish is essentially all the prepped vegetables with the Verjus dribbled on top – and then dressed with the pinenuts and some dill.

Neither of us liked it – it was too sour. It was like having all the moisture sucked out of your face. Not good. Such a shame because the Fennel and the Asparagus were very good before the dressing (chef’s snacks!).

Oh well – you can’t win them all.


Crunchy Fennel Salad with Pomegranate, Mango and Walnuts


Another ‘no-cook’ recipe – unless you count toasting some walnuts for a few minutes, this salad is very nice indeed – very refreshing and pretty simple to make.

One thing that always puts me off salads with mango is I am rubbish at breaking down a mango. I always make a mess and end up gnawing on the stone like a dog with a bone – just because I don’t like wasting any of it. Mangoes are a very inconsiderate fruit. I mean why put such a large stone in a fruit that big. Once you’ve removed all the flesh, julienning it seems to be just one step too far. Although on this occasion I seem to have done quite a good job.

Pomegranates are another one of those fruits that makes you just want to buy a pot of the seeds. That said the seeds are never as juicy as buying a fresh pomegranate, cutting it in half and whacking the back of it with a heavy spoon (or my preference the pestle from my glass pestle and mortar). All I’d say is whack them into a separate bowl rather than over the fennel like I did – as the juice splashes everywhere and makes the fennel look like it took part in a horror movie.

That’s as hard as the prep gets though. Just add the mango and pomegranate to some sliced fennel, sliced red onion, red chilli and the toasted walnuts. Toss it all together with some lime juice, coriander and lemon thyme. 

This is a wonderful salad and can be found in ‘Friends Around the Table’ by Acland Geddes and Pedro da Silva. This was again taken from a pullout from the Times Eat Magazine.