I have been watching the old UK version of House of Cards recently – all three series – and was struck by the likeness of the PM’s wife to Lady Macbeth. House of Cards reveals a terrifying aspect to politics, wherein power corrupts; and in Macbeth also, we have Shakespeare’s take on a mediaeval story, much fictionalised, with a riveting overlay of the fear of witches and their powers. The witches tell Macbeth that he will become king when Birnam Woods march to Dunsinane. Ha! Impossible, you might think. But of course they did. Birnam isn’t all that far from here – maybe a half-hour drive – lush and peaceful woodland nowadays. You can only imagine Macbeth’s terror when he looks out of the castle window and sees the trees advancing towards him … and of course it was all his wife’s fault! Not so with House of Cards. The protagonist, Francis Urquhart (F.U. for short! hilarious) is perfectly capable of evil-doing on his own behalf – having a cut-throat-ambitious wife merely smooths the way for him. Hubble bubble, toil and trouble …
These are great stories, full of lust and revenge and superstition. But as a keen cook, I am left wondering what went into that cauldron, apart from the eye of newt etc. Now this may be the longest-winded introduction to a recipe I’ve ever been guilty of, but last time I made beetroot soup, I did think it could be mistaken for a particularly viscous vat of blood. Don’t let that put you off!
BEETROOT SOUP WITH HORSERADISH CREAM
Careful handling in this recipe keeps the maximum amount of colour and flavour in the beets, resulting in a deep ruby bowlful of earthy sweetness. The horseradish cream spikes it with a refreshing jolt of acidity.
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 sticks celery
2 red onions
4-5 cloves garlic
|1 tsp cumin seeds
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp crème fraiche
1.5 tbsp creamed horseradish
Sourdough croutons to serve
1. Heat oven to 180 deg C. Carefully wash the beets, being careful not to pierce the skins, and lay in an ashet. Cover with tinfoil and bake for about 90 mins, depending on the size of your beets – if small, an hour may be enough.
2. Dice the veg, grind the cumin. Warm the oil in a large pot and add the veg, the peeled and sliced garlic, thyme, cumin and pepper. Stir, fry a few minutes, then put the lid on and leave the mixture to sweat in its own juices for about 30 mins.
3. When the beets are baked, allow them to cool a little for ease of handling, then carefully slice off the knobbly/hairy tops and bottoms. Peel the skin off – hopefully it will just rub off in paper-thin shreds, but if not, peel as thinly as possible. Chop and add the beets to the veg mix in the pot. Add boiling water to cover, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 mins. Taste and season. Blend, using a stick blender if you have one, till it’s smooth. You might need to add more water. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
4. Mix the horseradish with the crème fraiche – you want it quite sharp to offset the smooth warm homeliness of the soup.
5. Serve the soup piping hot, with a generous blob of horseradish cream on top, and a scatter of croutons.