Beetroot tops are often thrown away, which is a great shame as they taste delicious, especially in spring. Their flavour is sweet and earthy, reminiscent of chard. They use beet tops a lot in the Caucasus. This recipe is inspired by Ossetian pies. Ossetians are highlanders just North of Georgia. These pies are probably as old as the hills because traditionally three are served and each signifies a different element - earth, water and fire. I fell in love with their story, and with their outstanding flavour. They are normally brushed with melted butter as they come out of the oven, but I love to go one step further and smother them in beurre noisette. Try it, it will be the best thing you will eat this spring.
Makes 2 pies
Serves 6 as a lunch or 12 as a starter
150ml warm milk
100ml kefir or yoghurt
7g fast-action dry yeast
1 tbsp honey
10g crushed Maldon salt
200g organic unbleached white flour
200g biodynamic wholemeal flour
20g polenta or semolina (for dusting)
4 small cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
200g beetroot tops, stalks and leaves, finely sliced
100g feta, crumbled
70g Oggleshield or raclette, diced or grated
4 spring onions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
20g dill, finely chopped
1 lemon, zest only (optional)
First make the dough. It will be quite wet to begin with, but please don’t panic - it is meant to be, I will guide you through it all.
Add the yeast and honey to the warm milk and if you have a moment, let it rest for 5-10 minutes, you want to make sure the yeast activates, starts frothing. Then add the salt and the kefir or yogurt and gradually add 300g of the flour. Stir the flour in with a fork or spatula, incorporating it into the liquid. It will look like thick cake batter, don’t worry it looks a bit rough, it will sort itself out as it rises. Cover with cling film and leave somewhere warm to prove for 1-2 hours.
For the filling, take HALF the butter and pop it into a sauté or deep frying pan. Add the sliced garlic and cook over a very low heat for a minute or so. The garlic should remain pale, and become sweetly fragrant. When you can smell its sweetness, add the beetroot tops - both leaves and stalks (I use a chiffonade technique for this, like you would with basil). Cook the beet tops for about 5 minutes, to soften them and reduce them in volume.
Put the rest of the filling ingredients into a bowl and pop the warm buttery beet tops over everything. Mix well with a fork and let it cool slightly. Now, get into your filling bowl with your hands and give it all a good squidge. You want to almost bring it together a bit more, make it stick together better. Then pop in the fridge while you do the following.
When the dough has risen, flour your work surface and hands heavily with flour. Scrape the dough onto the floured surface. Now keep folding the dough over itself gently, sprinkling a little flour over it as you go. You want it to stop sticking but to remain feather-light. When the dough stops sticking flatten it gently with the palm of your hand. Make sure there is plenty of flour under it and then dust a little more on top. With a rolling pin, gently roll the dough out into a 30 cm circle. Now grab your filling and take half of it and put it in the centre of the rolled out dough.
Have a flat tray, covered with baking parchment and half the polenta sprinkled over it as well as a clean, damp kitchen cloth. Preheat the oven to its highest setting (mine is 220C).
Now for the fun folding bit, take one edge of the circle and fold it into the middle, now bring the edge of the first fold into the middle and fold again. Repeat until you have created about six folds. It should resemble a flattened money bag! Flatten it further with the palms of your hands, gently pushing the filling into the edges of the dough. You should end up with a 20-25cm flatbread. Do not worry if you get some rips, you need to let some air out during baking anyway! If your flatbread has no rips, flour the top gently and carefully flip it over and onto your prepped tray.
Sprinkle a little more polenta over the top and make a little hole in the middle to let the steam out.
Cover the breads with a damp towel and prove again from 15 to 30 minutes if you are (by now!) in a hurry. But I have lost track of time once and they were absolutely fine after an hour proving too.
Meanwhile melt some butter if you want to go simple. Otherwise, have a bowl at the ready. And to make brown butter or beurre noisette, get it into a light-coloured pan (so you can see colour change), otherwise follow your nose! Melt the butter and then lower the heat, it will start foaming and sizzling. When you see it’s colour change to deep golden, almost amber and it smells nutty and sweet, take it off the heat and immediately pour into the bowl.
Put the flatbreads into the oven and check after 8 minutes. If they are not deep golden yet, give them another 2-3 minutes. As soon as they come out of the oven brush them generously with the brown (or regular) melted butter and slice and serve either as lunch with a simple leaf salad or as a starter, or with a tasty spring broth or nettle soup.
Tip: The filling freezes very well. As do the breads once shaped! Just bake from frozen for 15 minutes instead of 10.
It’s a 1:1 proportion [200g of dough to 200g filling per pie]
Spring: kale and chard instead of beetroot tops. Add wild garlic, sorrel and nettles instead of spring onions.
Summer: a LOT of chopped coriander, dill, basil, mint, tarragon watercress and feta
Autumn: hispi cabbage lightly cooked with pancetta, grated apple
Winter: caramelised onions, grated raw pumpkin, fresh pomegranate seeds
Added by: Olga Woodhouse
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