Roasted beetroot with hazelnuts and thyme

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Until I was in my twenties, the only beetroot I had ever eaten was tinned and sliced, served on a hamburger and my first experience of roasted, fresh beetroot was a revelation. This way of cooking them seems to bring out their natural sweetness and nuttiness, and they taste wonderful. Hazelnuts provide a satisfying crunch and the feta a welcome creaminess. I am by way of becoming a thyme addict. It is the easiest of all the herbs I have ever grown, and it marries incredibly well so many foods. Adding it here enhances the earthiness of the beetroot and its perfume is heady and attractive. I fish out the stalks when the beetroot is done and add some more fresh sprigs when I serve them and they look gorgeous against the ruby red beets and white feta. Serve with a spicy rocket salad and some grilled lamb, or for lunch with crusty bread.

Serves 4 – 6 as a side dish

750 g beetroot (smaller ones are nicer for this dish)
2 plump garlic cloves
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Small bunch of fresh thyme
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts
50 g soft feta or mild goats cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 180 C. Peel the beetroot, trying to take only the thinnest amount of the skin off, as all the best nutrients are close to the skin. You’ll get very pink fingers, so you might want to wear gloves to avoid curious glances for the rest of the day. Cut the beetroot into small wedges and place in a glass bowl. Add the olive oil, about 10 – 12 springs of thyme, the two garlic cloves (no need to peel them, as their flavour will permeate the beetroot) and season well with salt and pepper. Mix well with a large spoon to coat the beetroot evenly. Tip into a roasting pan, cover with aluminium foil, and roast for 1 1/2 hours. Check after an hour and give the beets a toss to make sure they are not sticking to the pan. When the beetroot is done, carefully pick out the thyme stalks and then place the beetroot on a serving platter. Sprinkle over the toasted hazelnuts, cheese and then scatter with a few more sprigs of fresh thyme. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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