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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24 thoughts on “When Colours Run Riot

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen golden beet­root, how lovely. I’m sure Hock­ney would love it. (They’re build­ing a Whole­foods near here, so maybe I’ll up my game after it opens!)
    I’ve just been read­ing that if you look at the yel­low high­lights of snow, then at a dark tree trunk, it will seem moment­ar­ily blue — so it seems there’s sci­ence as well as mad­ness in his wild col­ours. Not that I’m really wish­ing for snow to test the theory.

    • I was brought up on bottled beet­root in vin­egar. I bet Hock­ney was too. Per­haps that’s where his love for purple — and blue — tree trunks comes from.

    • Thank you so much, Jakey… I like the phrase ‘Clas­sic Eggs on the Roof’ — it sounds very statesmanlike

  2. Charlie, just thought I would look at ‘Eggs On The Roof’ after see­ing some­thing on face­book. It’s so won­der­ful and inspir­ing– I might even start cook­ing (the boys will faint with shock)!!! Hope you a well and see you very soon, Dulce XXXXXXX

    • What a lovely sur­prise, Dulcie! It’s so good to hear from you and I hope you start cook­ing, even if the boys col­lapse in shock x

  3. That’s very reas­sur­ing: remem­ber­ing what my bed­room looked like in the 70’s, I thought it was my taste run­ning riot but clearly I was in tune with the times. The beet­root soup sounds wonderful.

    • I still find it hard to believe that we let the 70s go by without com­plain­ing. The soup is good, by the way. In the 70s we would prob­ably have called it bis­tro food.

  4. Oh I envy you — I’m a huge fan of Hock­ney. I love the way he observes life. I have a beau­ti­ful book of his work and one of my favour­ite pieces is a draw­ing of an ash­tray! I also love the huge photo-montages he did. I don’t think I’ve ever home-smoked any­thing, but now temp­ted to try.…smoked gar­lic, mmmmmm.

    • There are a couple of photo-montages in the exhib­i­tion, along with some beau­ti­ful and very detailed char­coal draw­ings. I’ve never seen Hockney’s char­coal work before — very dif­fer­ent, but very beautiful.

  5. I would have loved to see your grandpa’s home! When we finally pur­chased our first and own home after only rent­ing… we selec­ted char­coal gray, apple green, rasp­berry, brick, burnt orange, sage and apple red to paint the rooms and it was a riot of color and extraordin­ary! It really makes life vibrant and fun! Now we are rent­ing again and back to dirty white which is sad. Life should be full of wild color! And this salad is gor­geous (as is the photo of the col­ors in the park!) and the fla­vors sound just as col­or­ful! Love everything smoked. Your posts are always so thought provoking…

    • I love the sound of your colour-scheme and my grandpa would def­in­itely have approved. Thank you so much, Jamie, for your com­ments. They are, to repay the com­pli­ment, always thought provoking…

    • I’ve recently changed from Blog­ger to Word­Press. I won­der if that’s why the RSS feed died a death. Any­way, it’s lovely to hear from you…

    • All I can say Claire is that I am delighted you’re charmed by my posts. I do at least know who I am, although I can’t tell you how you found me! Thank you so much for leav­ing a com­ment — I appre­ci­ate it very much

    • If you dare make it Boin­sey, let me know what you think. I can’t prom­ise to change you into a beet­root fan, but I’d like to try

  6. Lovely look­ing meal. So healthy as well! Memor­ies of Grand­fath­ers are good. Mine was an author of tech­nical books, mainly about pre-jet air­planes. When I was 11, he gave me a copy of “How to ser­vice your car”. I thought it was marvellous!

    • What a fant­ast­ic­ally use­ful as well as inter­est­ing present, Lynne. Your grand­father sounds wonderful.

  7. I think I might paste your meta­phor about the trees above my desk and pon­der it on a daily basis. Won­der­ful. Also love the recipe — a com­bin­a­tion of fla­vours that work so well together. I’m a late­comer to the beet party but find it irres­ist­ible with goat’s cheese of any description.

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