When Colours Run Riot

There was a phase in the 1970s when interi­or design ran riot. I remem­ber my grandpa announ­cing proudly that he’d dec­or­ated the walls of his small front room with four wildly dif­fer­ent wall­pa­pers and picked out the wood­work in egg-yolk yel­low.

I thought of my grandpa as I walked around Dav­id Hockney’s new exhib­i­tion A Big­ger Pic­ture at the Roy­al Academy in Lon­don. The exhib­i­tion is vast and over­whelm­ing and throbs with wild col­ours and pat­terns. It’s gen­er­ous, showy and utterly inde­pend­ent in spir­it and yet it’s metic­u­lous and some­how dogged too — qual­it­ies that pretty much sum up my grandpa.

Walk­ing through Oxford’s Uni­ver­sity Parks later that day, I felt some­how let down that the winter branches didn’t have the vibrancy of Dav­id Hockney’s trees.

But turn­ing 180 degrees so that the sun was shin­ing on the trunks, the col­ours jumped into life. I got a whole new per­spect­ive. And if that’s not a meta­phor for life, I don’t know what is.

Muted, restrained food is the last thing I wanted after the Hock­ney tid­al wave. I craved the idea of eat­ing a riot of col­our. When in that mood and at this time of year, there’s really only one choice — full throttle, lip-stain­ing, fin­ger-smear­ing, red and yel­low beet­roots. I found a bag of just such a thing for half price at Whole­foods, along with a sil­ver foil hick­ory smoker from Fin­land for £2.29.

I have a dis­astrous record at home-smoking. The last time I tried we had to evac­u­ate the house. But I figured I’d be safe in the hands of the Finns. If you want a really strong smokey fla­vour, this bag will dis­ap­point you. But for a del­ic­ate hint of smoke, without the need for a full evac­u­ation plan, this bag works fine.


Serves 4

  • 2 red and 2 golden beet­root
  • 4 small red onions
  • Salad leaves
  • Goat’s curd
  • 1 head gar­lic
  • 2 table­spoons bal­sam­ic vin­eg­ar
  • Bunch thyme
  • 2 table­spoons olive oil
  • Black­berry vin­eg­ar — I bought mine from Womers­ley Foods
  • 1 dis­pos­able foil smoker — bought from Whole­foods for £2.29

Wash the beet­root, but don’t both­er to peel them. Slice into rounds about 1.5 to 2 cm thick. Peel the onions but leave whole. Toss the beet­root, onions, whole head of gar­lic and thyme in the olive oil and bal­sam­ic vin­eg­ar, sea­son and place in a single lay­er inside the foil smoker. Seal the foil and place in a pre-heated oven at 250 degrees C. After 15 minutes turn the heat down to 190 degrees C. Cook for a fur­ther 45 minutes. Remove the pack­age from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before cut­ting open the foil. Peel the beet­root and slice into thin­nish circles.

Make a salad dress­ing from a little olive oil, black­berry vin­eg­ar and season­ing and dress the salad leaves. Pile the beet­root, onions and scoops of goat’s curd over the leaves and trickle over a little of the bal­sam­ic and olive oil from the smoker. After its hour of bak­ing, the gar­lic will be rich, sweet and unc­tu­ous — per­fect when spread on a little sour­dough bread.

 I ate my riot­ous salad and bread with beet­root soup that I made by bak­ing beet­roots and apples for an hour and blend­ing with veget­able stock and a little grated fresh horseradish.

apple on a plate

My grandpa was wild with his col­our schemes but excep­tion­ally tim­id in his tastes. He would have hated this recipe. But he would have loved the ideas that lie behind it, and that’s good enough for me.

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