I was sitting at a romantic little Sicilian restaurant in North Melbourne perusing the menu figuring what to order next: Caponata (a kind of eggplant/pine nut ratatouille), Spaghetti alla Siracusana (fresh anchovies, peperoncini, cherry tomato spaghetti topped with bread crumbs) or Polpette all’Agrodolce (sweet/sour meatballs). This was when my entrée came out to the table – beetroot, fennel and goat cheese thinly sliced and topped with herbaceous new season extra virgin olive oil. It was amazing! Amazing I tell you.
I just knew I had to recreate this at home. But how? The dish looked so simple – it only had three main ingredients after all. Yet it was so perfectly balanced in both flavour and texture that I knew I had my work cut out for me. The first trick to this recipe is the delicious crunch of the fennel and beetroot. Yet both these ingredients are a little too full on to eat straight up raw. The answer to this problem eluded me for some time, until I came across a technique for fresh pickling vegetables in Vietnam.
The second issue was to find a way to slice the beetroot and fennel thinly enough to get the right crunch to suppleness ratio. This again eluded me until I bought myself a mandoline (not a mandolin which is an instrument). Although I since figured out that a potato peeler will do a good enough job if you don’t own one of these.
- 1 beetroot
- 1 bulb fennel
- 1 cup sherry vinegar (or 1 cup of cider vinegar with 3 tbsp sugar)
- 50g hard goat cheese
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sprinkling of salt/pepper
Slice the beetroot and fennel as thinly as possible with a mandoline or potato peeler. Pour the sherry vinegar (or cider vinegar/sugar mix) into a bowl, add a pinch of salt and soak the fennel for at least 30 min.
After 30 min or so remove the fennel from the vinegar and squeeze it dry in your hand. Don’t be too rough but you can squeeze reasonably hard. This will get the excess vinegar out of the fennel as well as soften its texture slightly.
Do the same process with the beetroot except do not squeeze it afterwards. You can also preferably soak the beetroot longer, but no stress if you can’t wait. And of course you can soak the fennel and beetroot simultaneously, but you will need to use twice the amount of vinegar.
Make sure you keep the vinegar to use another time in salad dressings for to pickle other vegetables. Carrots, cabbage and kale all work well with this process and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Lay the beetroot and fennel out on a plate along with the thinly sliced goat cheese, sprinkle over some fennel fronds, salt, pepper and the extra virgin olive oil.
That my friend will satisfy the fussiest of eaters. The pickling process is also raw for people who like eating raw food and makes the veges more digestible and nutritious.