I picked up our fantastic Silver Lake Farms C.S.A. (now taking new shareholders! you should sign up now!) bounty on Friday afternoon. The friendly volunteer asked if I wanted Chioggia or Golden beets. I opted for Chioggia (pretty pink and white candy stripes!). Then she asked if I wanted the greens or if she should toss them in the compost heap. I let her know that I'd happily part with my carrot-tops, but no way, no how was I giving up my beet greens.
I love beet greens almost as much as the beets themselves. That being said, just sautéing them in olive oil (with or without garlic) can begin to bore a bit. When I need to spice up my vegetable repertoire, I tend to turn to Alice Waters' marvelous, Chez Panisse Vegetables. She is a gentle master when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
I was actually looking for something to do with the three massive chioggia beets I received, when I stumbled across a recipe with the unassuming name, Beet-Green Pasta. All the ingredients were present and accounted for in my kitchen and it was Meat-Free Monday, so Beet-Green Pasta was decisively on the menu.
I felt excited to try something new, especially a recipe that would take advantage of the pot of mint growing outside my kitchen. The use of currants (or in my case golden raisins) was sure to please. I'm a sucker for that bit of sweet paired with onions and garlic and really any greens at all. At the same time, I felt a little skeptical. Would this be just another semi-flat vegetarian pasta dish with greens and onions and garlic (snooze) that just cried out for some sort of cheese or meat to bring it to life?
Who do I think I am doubting Alice Waters? Silly girl. She hadn't failed me previously, and she certainly did not this time. This is a simple pasta dish comprised of the aforementioned, beet greens, onions, garlic, and olive oil. The innovation comes from the clever use of a bay leaf, a bunch of mint and currants. Still I was doubtful. I thought I'd definitely have to put her advice for a more piquant dish to use, by adding a splash of vinegar and a dash of cayenne.
Didn't have to.
The pasta is pretty fantastic on its own. It's a rather new flavor profile for me, combining the mint and beet greens. The mint provides a haunting burst of freshness that keeps surprising bite after bite, and the bay leaf adds a pleasing dusty depth to the sautéed onions and garlic.
Just a word of advice. The cooking time really is just ten minutes. Five minutes to sauté the onion and garlic and then five more to cook the greens and stems. Don't start this dish well before you want to serve it. Don't start it and then after the vegetables are just beautifully cooked through, turn off the flame and leave the cover on waiting for your husband to finally get home from work. My brain knows better. I swear. But it apparently got distracted by someone's Breaking Bad spoiler (argh!) on Facebook. In my fury, I left the cover on and the greens cooked a little longer than ideal. It wasn't a calamity, but it wasn't perfection either. The brighter vegetal flavor was a tiny bit cooked away.
Try this! I halved the recipe and used linguine in lieu of fedelini with no problems at all. The mint is unexpected and fantastic with the greens and the sweet currants (golden raisins). I served it with a hunk of pecorino romano for grating over. Fe. and I shared the rest for lunch today, cold and straight out of the fridge. It was verging on sublime.
Alice Waters' Beet-Green Pasta
1/2 cup currants
3 to 4 bunches beet greens (about 2 pounds)
1 small bunch fresh mint (about 1/8 pound)
2 medium red onions
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound dried fedelini pasta
Salt and pepper
Cover the currants with boiling water, let soak for 15 minutes, and then drain. While they are soaking, wash the beet greens, strip the leaves from the stems, and cut the leaves into chiffonade. Chop the stems into 2-inch pieces. Remove the mint leaves from the stems, wash them and then chop them into chiffonade.
Put on a pot of salted water for the pasta. Peel the onions and the garlic and chop them both finely. Sauté them with the bay leaf over medium heat in 1/4 cup of the olive oil for about 5 minutes or until they are translucent. Add the beet leaves and stems and the currants and cook 5 minutes more, covered. Meanwhile, when the water has come to a boil, add the pasta. Uncover the beet greens, season with salt and pepper, and add the mint leaves. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and toss well with the sauce, moistening it with a ladle of the pasta water and the rest of the olive oil. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 5
Note: For a slightly more piquant dish, add a splash of vinegar and a pinch of cayenne.