8 golfball-sized, raw beetroot, trimmed and washed
1 tablespoon dark, sweet, fragrant vinegar, e.g. a summer fruit vinegar like blackcurrant, or a good-quality balsamic or sherry vinegar
120ml extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
100g Comté (aged 18 months), 50g grated and 50g left whole
20g basil leaves – keep a few of the smaller leaves for garnish
8 x 2cm-thick slices of baguette
120g watercress, washed and dried, large stalks discarded
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and very finely sliced (preferably using a mandolin)
Walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
Fresh, light & zingy salad served with slices of toasted bread topped with a vibrant pesto.
Heat oven to 180℃ fan / 200℃ normal and wrap each beetroot in aluminium foil, then put them all in a roasting tin and roast for 1 hour, until cooked through. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the foil and, using your hands, remove the skin from each beetroot (this can be done in advance and the beetroot can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days until needed) and cut into quarters.
While the beetroot are roasting, spread the walnuts onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 7 minutes until lightly browned and smelling fragrant (check before the time is up to make sure they are not burning).
Make the dressing: mix the vinegar with 45ml (3 tablespoons) of olive oil in a small jam jar, season with salt and pepper and shake thoroughly to combine. Mix about 1 or 2 tablespoons with the beetroot so that all the pieces are coated – if they are still slightly warm, they will absorb the dressing nicely, but it’s fine to do it when they’re cold. Leave them to marinade for as long as possible – overnight in the fridge is ideal.
Make the pesto: put 50g of the walnuts and the clove of garlic into a food processor and process until finely chopped – but still with some granular texture. Add 50g of the Comté and process again briefly. Add the basil and blitz again to chop the leaves, then begin trickling in 75ml of oil, while the processor runs. Taste and season as necessary with lemon juice, salt and pepper. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can make the pesto with a large pestle and mortar, crushing the ingredients together in the same order).
Make the crostini: lightly toast the slices of baguette on each side. Spread a little pesto over one side of each piece (you may have more pesto than you need, so any excess pesto can be kept in a jam jar in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month – it’s delicious mixed into pasta).
Add the watercress and fennel to the beetroot and toss together – add more dressing as needed, but don’t drown the salad. Sprinkle over the remaining walnuts and, using a vegetable peeler, shave over the remaining Comté, sprinkle over the small basil leaves, drizzle over some walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil and serve at room temperature with the crostini.