BEETS………..roots & tops!
Every spring, I get excited when the first roots appear at the market…hakurei turnips, radishes, and all the colors of beets. Beets are abundantly healthy and tasty, but they also carry the distinction of being incredibly versatile. In addition to their sweet roots, beets also grow super delicious greens. Being a member of the same family that includes spinach and Swiss chard, beet greens can be substituted in any recipe that may include those hardy greens. One of my favorite uses for these beautiful tops is this quick pasta that can be thrown together with the help of a few pantry items. Save the roots for a luxurious salad or a fancy toast. This recipe is all about those tops!
This recipe was written for a pound of fresh or dried pasta which is enough for 3 or 4 portions. I used the Spelt Casarecche made by the Pasta Lab (who also has a stand at the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market) which pairs wonderfully with the earthiness of the beet tops. As for the cheese, any hard grating cheese like Parmesan will work but the Royer Mountain from Clover Creek Cheese Cellar has a nuanced character that will play well in this simple but elegant pasta. The fish sauce in the recipe is optional but does provide an intriguing layer of flavor without tasting fishy. Finally, every dish needs just a little bit of acid to brighten things up. The vinegars from Keepwell Vinegar are mild and full of flavor. Their Ramp Vinegar provides just the right amount of acidity needed in this dish.
Yields 3-4 portions
1 pound Fresh or Dried Pasta
¼ cup + 2 T Olive oil
¼ cup Green garlic, sliced thin (about 2 tender stalks)
2 pinches Dried hot pepper
1 bunch Beet Greens
1 t. Fish Sauce (optional), Red Boat Brand
3 T Butter
1 clove Garlic, peeled
1 cup Breadcrumbs
To taste Low Acidity Vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 block Hard grating cheese
Freshly cracked black pepper
1. Add 4 quarts of water and 3 T of salt to a large pot and bring to a boil.
2. Remove the beet greens from the stem (reserve for another use) and chop into bite sized pieces.
3. Toast Breadcrumbs. In a large saute pan, warm a ¼ cup of the olive oil along with the clove of garlic. Toast garlic until golden brown. Add breadcrumbs to the pan. Continue to cook the breadcrumbs over a medium heat, shaking the pan constantly while also moving the breadcrumbs around with a wooden spoon. Once breadcrumbs are a golden brown color, remove from the heat, season with salt and place on a plate to cool.
4. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the instructions on the package. Make sure to reserve 2 cups of pasta water for use in building your sauce.
5. While pasta cooks, heat the remaining 2 T of olive oil over a medium heat in another large pot. Add the sliced green garlic and dried hot pepper. Cook for 2 minutes until softened. Add beet greens and season with salt and pepper. Stir greens until they are coated in oil and wilted. Add 1 ½ cups of the reserved pasta water, butter, fish sauce (if using) and cooked pasta.
6. Turn up the heat and continue to cook until the sauce coats the pasta.
7. Turn off the heat. Season with salt (if needed) and vinegar or lemon juice.
8. Top pasta with a good coating of bread crumbs. Reserve remaining breadcrumbs for another use. Will last for up to 7 days in a sealed container at room temperature.
8. Grate on cheese and finish with some freshly ground black pepper.
Michael Joyce is a Philly-based chef and local food advocate. Spending his career in kitchens devoted to seasonality and sustainability such as Blue Hill, Bolete Restaurant and most recently Barbuzzo. He believes that cooking through the seasons and as close to the source as possible, is not only satisfying and inspiring, but critical to the health of our local communities.