Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Holy Beet Greens, Batman

Oh the Farmers Market. It's my version of a candy store. I'm lucky enough to have access to one almost every day of the week. No, I'm grateful for it. Santa Barbara makes it easy to be a locavore with such breadth in fresh produce year round. I mean, how awesome is it to get fresh strawberries in early March? I saw a woman buying a whole flat. I'm sure she was going to cook something sinfully good. But we also have all the lovely winter produce one might expect. I think some of the winter veggies don't get their due credit for their fabulousness. I mean root veggies aren't the sexiest of the vegetable family but they really are some of the most delicious, nutritious and flexible foods out there.

I've become especially fond of beets (and find myself drawn to the golden ones) of late. But I always feel guilty when I toss out the beet greens. Growing up eating collard greens, you'd think I would instinctually know what to do with beet greens, but I have always felt a bit lost. They just don't seem like something you'd throw some pork fat in and simmer for an hour. I know sometimes the beets you may buy in the grocery store have greens that look about as appetizing as an ashtray, but when you get fresh beets, the greens are glorious. I wanted to take advantage of them and was thrilled to recall a recipe I'd seen in Food and Wine by Tarry Lodge chef Andy Nusser that used beet greens in a pasta dish. I love using swiss chard in pasta dishes so this seemed like a safe one to try. And I was able to buy fresh pasta at the Farmers Market to boot (even though it was fettuccine and not fusilli).

Fusilli Alla Crazy Bastard (Yes, that is actually the name of the dish)
1/2 cup walnuts
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 lb fusilli pasta
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 lb beet greens, rinsed and coarsely chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1/2 lb soft goat cheese, thickly sliced
1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toast the walnuts for 7 minutes, until lightly browned; let cool slightly. Coarsely chop and transfer to a bowl.
2. Raise the oven temperature to 450°. On the rimmed baking sheet, toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes for about 10 minutes, until browned in spots.
3. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the fusilli. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, 2 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, beet greens and crushed red pepper and cook, crushing the tomatoes slightly, until the greens are just wilted, 3 minutes.
4. Drain the fusilli, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta, the reserved cooking water and the sliced goat cheese to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, tossing to coat the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to a bowl, garnish with the chopped toasted walnuts, top with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve immediately.

Perhaps it was beginners luck, but the pasta dish turned out delicious! I do think when you start with the best, freshest ingredients it's hard to go wrong. The toasted walnuts were an amazing garnish, really adding depth to the dish. If I made this again (and I'm sure I will), I think you could add more roasted tomatoes, some shallots or sweet onions, and even more beet greens. Although I love cheese, I would start by halving the amount of goat cheese and then add more to taste. I thought the amount suggested in the recipe overshadowed some of the other ingredients. But Russ and I cleaned our plates! I feel great about not being wasteful with my beet greens and happy to have a new tasty dish to add to the rotation.

I paired this lovely pasta with a roasted beet and blood orange salad that is one of my standbys and favorites. We are in the midst of blood orange season. Yeah! [It's closest rival is peach season, but that is some months away from now so for now I'm all about the blood orange.] This salad is so simple (as long as you give yourself enough time to roast the beets for an hour or so). I serve the beets and oranges on a bed of greens (usually something mild like butter leaf lettuce) with a Dijon-white wine vinaigrette with tarragon and add some toasted pistachios and some luscious goat cheese. It is particularly divine if you use le Chevrot. My go-to place is always C'est Cheese. They have a friendly, knowledgeable staff and of course an outstanding selection of cheeses. Plus, they always give you samples to taste!

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