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July 18, 2014 4:12 pm
Chioggia, at the southern tip of the Venetian lagoon, has given its name to at least three foodstuffs that I know of. There is a rather knobbly, grey-blue pumpkin, Marina di Chioggia, which is of excellent quality. Then we have radicchio di Chioggia, which is the round, slightly-larger-than-a-tennis-ball variety that was the first radicchio to be imported to Britain and perhaps the least interesting member of that family.
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The Chioggia beet, however, is possibly the best beetroot of all. If red beetroot is a little sweet and earthy for some tastes and golden beetroot sweet and a little bland, the Chioggia beetroot is probably the most savoury. There are other candidates – the estimable Cheltenham beet, for example – but I still give top ranking to the Chioggia.
It is not without disappointment. It starts off with striking concentric rings, giving it the “candy stripe” moniker, but the colour is soon lost as it cooks and it turns a rather dull purply-brown.
More than squid, more than octopus even, with its thick-fleshed body and muscular tentacles, I can think of nothing marine that stands up to long cooking or yields so much to a stew as the cuttlefish. Despite this, one sees it disappointingly little. We know there are buckets of it all over the Adriatic and western Mediterranean but there is also a huge amount which drifts up on the Gulf Stream and finds itself on the southwest coast of Britain. Most of what is caught is sent straight back whence it came, by the lorry load, as it seems the Spanish appreciate it a great deal more than we do.
I can sell squid and octopus by the ton but, for some reason, cuttlefish is a slow seller, however I dress it up. Yet the time for this Cinderella of the sea will surely come. Indeed, now that beef cheek is as popular as fillet and pork bellies the price of rubies, the redemption of the cuttlefish can only be around the corner.
This is almost a one-pot dish that practically cooks itself and improves with time. It is also a good substantial main course for four.
|750g||beets, “candy stripe” or Chioggia if possible, but raw in any case|
|200ml||(basic) white wine|
|A few basil leaves|
As this dish has a bit of “heft”, I would not rule out a red as long as it had vigour and freshness. My choice would be a Friulano (Savagnin), which has the requisite acidity and aforesaid heft.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Photograph: Andy Sewell
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