Though I’m only occasionally attentive to the language’s humorous quirks, I’ve lately found a number of delightful French turns-of-phrase. Sleet is a mélange of rain and snow, while a treadmill is known as a tapis roulant, or rolling carpet. Most entertaining is a variety of roasted beet known as crapaudine, a name likely bestowed because of the similarity between the beet’s rough, pock-marked skin and that of the crapeau, or toad.
While the lettuce here usually requires washing and spinning, and the best carrots are thoroughly encrusted with soil, beets come handily pre-boiled or roasted. The former are often vacuum-packed and sold in supermarkets. (While perfectly serviceable—and far superior to their vinegar-soaked British counterparts—they lack the earthy sweetness brought on by roasting.) The latter can easily be found at outdoor markets, where they are speared out of packing crates with long forks. Select vendors should have crapaudines.
A heritage variety thought to date back several centuries, crapaudines can immediately be distinguished from ordinary roasted beets by their shape: conical instead of spherical. A closer inspection reveals the distinguishing texture and, usually, a higher price tag.
I’ve used crapaudines to make a quick, extra-flavourful borscht. But most often, I settle for a composed salad. A classic plate begins with a bed of soft lettuce—I like the gentle grassiness of mâche, or lambs lettuce, though watercress or a mesclun mix are also suitable. Next, fresh-roasted walnuts or hazelnuts bring crunch, while echoing the earthiness of the beets. Finally, soft, crumbly cheese adds richness and lactic tang. A creamy, mild blue like Fourme d’Ambert is classic, though nubs of pure-white goats cheese (you could try a young crottin or Maconnais, both squidgy and rindless) make for a particularly attractive presentation. A nut oil dressing sharpened with red wine or sherry vinegar melds the ingredients.
Accompanied by good bread, this can stand alone for lunch. It would also make a visually striking starter before a monochrome main course such as roast chicken. Just two caveats. The beets and dressing make this a challenging match for wine. And the salad should be made just before serving, to avoid the beetroot bleeding onto the cheese.
Roasted Beetroot Salad with Mâche, Walnuts and Cheese
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s The Cook and the Gardener
Total time: 20 minutes; Active time: 20 minutes
1 handful walnuts
2 handfuls mâche
1 medium-sized roasted beetroot
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 heaping teaspoon sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
80-100 grams Fourme d’Ambert
Place a heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat. Add walnuts, turning occasionally, until browned in spots, 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat to cool.
While the nuts are toasting, pick through mâche, removing any wilted leaves or large stems. Wash thoroughly in cool water and dry in a salad spinner.
Remove any remaining skin from the beetroot and slice into half-moons.
Pour oil into a cruet or small bowl. Drip in vinegar, add mustard and season to taste. Whisk until well-emulsified.
Arrange mâche on a serving plate. Cover with slices of beetroot. Crumble walnuts over the vegetables. Cut the cheese into small chunks and scatter on top. Drizzle over dressing and serve.