Roast beets, sage gelée, hazelnut & bay foam

November 2, 2009

roasted beets with sage gelee and hazelnut foam

There was two things I promised myself I would never make in the kitchen. The first was plate skids. You know, saucing a plate with a brown sauce, but using a paint-brush to brush it on in a stripe.

The second was making a foam. Somehow the idea just seems kind of silly, boarder line pretentious, and certainly overdone.

Looks like I have broken rule #2. I can safely say however that rule #1 will never, under any circumstances be broken.


With a son almost out of diapers, that saucing style just reminds me of something too close to home..

It has been a little bit longer than usual since I have posted anything here. I could quite easily blame that on a hectic work schedule. Blaming it on round after round of Halloween parties would be rather easy too. Truth be told though, I have been in a culinary slump recently – nothing I have made recently excited me enough to photograph it, let alone post it on this here blog. It all started with a watery soup I made for some good friends, and went downhill at breakneck speed from there. Fingers crossed this dish has pulled me out of it a bit. Quite often it takes a slightly fussy and rather silly dish to do that.

I recently pulled out the last couple of beets from the garden, and they have been sitting there (most likely longer than they should have been), winking at me, and I have been wondering what to do with them. To top it off, our sage plant has gone more out of control than my hair in a wind-storm, so some of that had to be used up.

Quite frankly though, I have no clue where the gelee idea came from. The foam on the other hand was a development. It was originally going to be a hazelnut butter. I have a great recipe from chef Holy Smith (from a Gourmet magazine) where she makes a almond butter by blending almonds and olive oil together (and a few other things). It is just fantastic with beets. I thought of doing the same thing here, but with hazelnuts. The result was tasty, but just too thick and heavy for this dish.

I then decided to make a thin sauce from some hazelnut stock. That was tasty, but lacked body and visual appeal. A bit of butter, and a little cream, and a spin in my espresso machine steam-blower-thingie(tm) yielded a rather trendy foam. The one thing to remember when making a foam is that of strength of taste. Because you are adding so much volume with the air going in to it, the foam can end up tasting of nothing. For this one I made sure I reduced the original hazelnut stock by about half, that yielded a delicate but still flavorful foam.

The idea of this dish is really about delicate flavors. Fall food for me starts to get pretty heavy. Most weeks I will live off roasted root vegetables, robust soups, braised meats and meaty fish. Here I wanted to create something with all the flavors of the season getting cold, but without the bulk. Turns out this would be just perfect as a starter to a much heavier meal, perhaps some braised pork or mutton.

So this was my first time making a foam. My first time also making a gelee. This gelee is really a little take on a sage oil that I seem to make all the time. Here I blanched and shocked (BOO!) some sage and parsley, chopped it up, and blended it with a little water until the herbs are really finely ground up in the liquid. This gets passed through a ridiculously fine sieve, and the solids discarded. The liquid is mixed with a solution of gelatin, then set up for 24hours in the fridge.

A slice of gelee gets put down, topped with finely sliced roast beets (two different colored beets works best visually), cornered at the last second with a little foam, and finished with some lemon zest – just for that bright note of acidity that I love to add to autumn dishes.

The great thing about this dish is that whilst there might be a few components to it, it can all be done a day or so ahead of time, and then just composed together in a matter of minutes before the meal.

Roasted Beets, Sage Gelee, Hazelnut and Bay Foam recipe


2 medium/small beets – preferably different types/colors

olive oil

sage gelee:

10 sage leaves

small handful of flat leaf parsley leaves


1 packet of powdered geletin

hazelnut and bay foam:

20 hazelnuts

1 bay leaf

5 black peppercorns

1 clove

splash of heavy cream or full fat milk

2 tablespoons of butter


For the beets:

Preheat your oven to 375F

Wash the beets, put them in a heavy pan, drizzle with a little olive oil, and a good splash of water. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast in the oven until the beets are just tender. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on the size of the beets. After 30 minutes, take the pan out of the oven, and poke them with a pairing knife. They are done when the knife can pass through without too much resistance. Return to the oven if they need cooking longer.

Once the beets are done, remove from the oven and let cool a little. Rub the skins off with a paper towel. Allow to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the gelee:

Get a large pot of heavily salted water boiling. Prepare an ice bath. Blanch the sage leaves in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then plunge into the ice bath to cool them completely. Do the same with the parsley leaves, but for only 10 seconds in the water. I find it is easy if I put the herb you want to blanch in a metal sieve, and put that into the boiling water with tongs. When it is time to chill them, you just pick the sieve out of the water with tongs, and tip into the ice water – no hunting herbs around a boiling pan!

Coarsely chop the herbs. Put them in a blender with 1 cup of cold water. Blend for a couple of minutes, until the herbs are chopped up very finely. Strain through a very fine sieve, lined with cheesecloth, or use a superbag.

Heat 3/4cup of this herb liquid in a small saucepan until warm. Too much heat here will ruin the flavor of the herbs, and make it all rather bitter. Too little heat, and the gelatin might have problems setting. Warm is good. Boiling is bad.

Mix the packet of powdered gelatin with 1/4 cup of cold water, until thoroughly combined. Pour this into the warm herb water, and mix thoroughly. Pour this out onto a flat plate, and chill until set – 24hours.

For the foam:

The hazelnuts need to have their skins removed. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over a medium/high heat. Toss in the hazelnuts and toast them in the pan, tossing occasionally until the skins are charred. Allow to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, rub them all in a large towel to remove the skins. Examine each one to make sure the skin is off.

Put the hazelnuts, bay, clove and peppercorns into a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, until the water has taken on a lot of flavor. Remove the bay leaf, and reduce this liquid by half. Strain through a fine sieve. This will keep in the fridge for a day or two easily, until you are ready to serve the dish.

To complete the dish:

Slice the beets very finely using a mandoline, or some serious knife skills (I always opt for the first option..).

Cut the gelee into strips about 1.5″ wide, and 4″ long. Carefully plate these strips onto individual plates. Top with the sliced beets.

For the foam: warm the chestnut stock mixture. Whisk in the butter and the cream, until completely incorporated. Steam the mixture using an espresso steamer to get a light foam. Alternatively I am sure you could use an immersion blender (I don’t have one, so no idea if it would work). You could also use one of those little hand-held electric whisk things for making your latte all frothy.

As soon as the foam is done, spoon it onto the plate – just over one corner of the sage gelee and beets. Finish with a little grated lemon zest

Serve immediately.

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  • noelle {simmer down!} November 2, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    What an interesting combination! Is it meant to be eaten warm or cold?

  • mattwright November 3, 2009 at 12:10 am

    noelle – room temperature really

  • codfish November 3, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Ah, watery soups can be a total confidence killer. Glad you made it out alive; because this looks fabulous. I’m feeling inspired to make my first gelee, too.

  • lisaiscooking November 3, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    It’s a beautiful dish! The nutty flavor of the foam sounds great with beets.

  • nina November 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I have broken rule Nr 2 and it was ok, but I have to say I don;t know if I would ever make a savory gelee, well, maybe…you picture is inspiring!!! Hope you got you mojo back!!!

  • Kitchen Butterfly November 4, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I am sold purely on the foam…..purely, and the amazing photo. Thanks for the point and shoot lesson as well, and the photo of the set-up, needless to say it is bookmarked!

  • keiko November 5, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I’m drooling – what a fabulous combination of flavours/colours/textures! You are such an inspiration Matt.

  • redmenace November 5, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    I was in a serious slump too. Not much cooking. A LOT of baking! Call me Ms. Fattypants. Nice dish. Lovely, as always!

  • Hank November 6, 2009 at 1:41 am

    Oooh, how… molecular.

    Pretty, but how was the texture? Beets and a gelee seem very similar in mouthfeel at first thought. Were they? And did the foam hold up for more than a moment? That’s what’s always stopped me from trying them: Looks great for 3 minutes, then becomes a watery saucy thing. Meh.

    Very nice flavor combinations, though!

  • Colloquial Cook November 8, 2009 at 8:42 am

    This looks absolutely stunning Matt! No foams for me yet, and it’s not just because they’re gimmicky, as you say, but because I’m way too lazy to put that much effort into something I won’t be fast enough to photograph and/or eat… That said, it says a lot about your photographic skillz 🙂 Although I shall confess that I love playing with the coffee milk frothing mini-thingy(R). So I wouldn’t bet on my foam abstinence.

  • drfugawe November 9, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    And one of my rules is: no jellied anything! (I’d bet I share this dislike with most kids who grew up in the U.S. in the ’50s, when everything was “jellied”). I’ll pass on the gelee.

    A few years ago I discovered (by mistake, of course) that over-ripe pear will whip into an impressive foam, which holds for more than a few minutes – actually makes a nice dessert topping, or any other creative use.

    Congrats on your creation – it’s impressive.

  • Big Boys Oven November 10, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Every second of it was caught so beautifully! just awesome!

  • Aran November 10, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    i love reading how your inspiration came about. i find that fascinating how we all think and the different things that we come up with. i would love to try this matt. the photos are beautiful!

  • Y November 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    What a beautiful plate of food 🙂 Agreed, that sometimes foams can be overdone, but I think they can be appropriate when used properly. They add an extra dimension of flavour and an element of fun to a dish, without being heavy component.

  • Debi (Table Talk) November 11, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    To foam or not to foam is always a popular topic for debate…I happen to think it looks pretty cool, and can be effective, as you have used it here in this dish.
    I am a fan of the flavors in the gelee, just not a fan of anything with gelatin (it’s a texture thing…).

  • jessica November 12, 2009 at 2:05 am

    I spent an hour trying to track your website down, specifically the post about the meat dinner. I googled Brit in Seattle, and Meat Dinner Proscuitto etc etc and NOTHING! I have a pretty photographic memory so I could remember a lot of things about your blog…except the darn title. I also looked on a lot of “best food blog” lists. to no success. finally i looked on an alphabetical list of all food blogs and read the whole darn thing until i found the one that screamed out “oh yeah, that’s what it is called.” So i just wanted to say, you need to make your blog more easily findable by search words, and two, you need to be on these “best food blog” lists, because yours is one of the best.

  • jaden November 20, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Next time I come to Seattle, I’m gonna stash a paintbrush under my apron and SWIPE!
    the plate with brown sauce!!!!

    (evil laugh)

  • matt November 20, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    jaden: then you are eating it 🙂 and photographing it too!! hehe