Dinner, last night. In an attempt to get as many vegetables into us as possible, I threw together a tart, crunchy, juicy salad of shaved purple carrots, chioggia beets, cucumbers and radishes, with wedges of first-of-the-season heirloom tomato, tender baby lettuce, and lots of snipped scallions in a lemon and coriander vinaigrette. I added lots of shredded zucchini to my kofta-style meatballs, and served them on top of freekeh and lentils and crispy sweet onions, all of it drizzled with a goat yogurt tzatziki sauce. Bright flavors and colors for our dimly-lit late night meal, and a crappy camera phone photo for the record.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it. We’re not yet done with January and we’ve had more than our yearly average snowfall. My commute has been awful – if the trains aren’t delayed by snow and ice, then switches are breaking, signals malfunctioning, rail cars creeping ever so slowly from station to station. I’ve missed my bus home from the train station every night this week, and tonight looks to be no exception, with more snow expected to begin this afternoon, continuing overnight.
We’ve been on a steady diet of comfort food – a hearty pot roast Sunday night, an almost-meatless soup on Monday, loaded with creamy beans, pasta, and bits of pancetta (not yet our own, but we’re oh-so-close). Last night, I threw together this simple pasta dish, a combination of grated beets cooked down in butter with a healthy splash of white balsamic, the pasta par-cooked then added to the beets with some pasta water to finish, becoming infused with beet flavor and that lovely rich hue. There are similar pastas out there that include poppy seeds and mint, but Mike and I both wanted goat cheese, so I crumbled a bit of Vermont Butter & Cheese chevre on our plates, along with some chopped pistachios for a visual and textural pop. The vibrant colors and bright flavors chased my winter blues away, at least for a little while.
If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, you’ve probably already seen me proudly cheering on my cool friends Cathy and Kim, who are featured in the Washington Post today. If you haven’t, check it out. I’m there, too, on page two, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Sometimes I get an idea in my head and I just don’t allow myself the time or space to pull it off. I mean, making a fresh pasta dough is so easy with Big Red and her pasta rollers, I figured making a quick mid-week lasagna would be a snap, especially with some nontraditional fillings inside. We had these beautiful beets, for instance – three different kinds – and the greens could be sauteed with some shallot and olive oil, chopped fine and mixed with local goat and ricotta cheeses.
Unfortunately, I left my beautiful pasta sheets sitting for far too long under a damp towel, and by the time my water was boiling and I returned to them, they were a sodden mess, completely unusable. I darn near cried. (I’m still a little sad about it.)
But I had to get something together for dinner since I had boiling water and all of these ingredients prepped, and I couldn’t bear to let them go to waste. So I pulled out the heartiest dried pasta we had around – some perciatelli (like a slightly thicker bucatini), which I boiled until short of al dente, tossed with my ricotta/goat cheese mix and the basic béchamel I had on deck, then layered the dressed pasta in my oiled casserole dish with alternate layers of red, gold and striped beets. I lightly pressed the pasta down, drizzled a little olive oil over the top to aid in browning, put it in the oven and waited.
About 25 minutes later, we had a baked pasta casserole. It was good but not stellar that first night, however, it was really good the next day as leftovers for lunch. And speaking of leftovers:
I had cut all of the little trimmings from my fresh pasta sheets into uneven shapes and dried them slightly so that Mike could cook them up for lunch for himself during the week. He did, dressing them with a little fresh tomato sauce he also whipped up. I made him promise to take pictures:
Might have to try that myself sometime.
When temperatures rise, our whole way of eating changes – we often make dinner out of nothing but a good, lean protein and a whole mess of veggies. Again, it’s about stripping things down, simplifying flavors so that the freshness of the good stuff we bring home from the market shines through.
Last night was another of those meals. A couple halibut filets, seared in olive oil until golden, and served on top of a beet “carpaccio” – red and golden beets sliced as thinly as possible (and since my mandoline slicer has disappeared since our move, I did it the old fashioned way), steeped briefly in vinegar (champagne vinegar for the golden beets; sherry for the red), then layered on our plates. They got a sprinkling of lemon thyme, some thinly sliced purple scallions, Maldon salt, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of grassy olive oil before the fish went on top, and I finished the plates with a salad of baby mustard greens and picked flat-leaf parsley.
The flavors were fresh and vibrant, and dinner was ready in minutes, with minimal cleanup – leaving us more time to enjoy the warm evening. Isn’t that what summer cooking is all about?
After the long week we had, I was really feeling the need for some inspiration, so on Saturday morning Mike and I headed into the city to do a food safari. After brunch and a quick stop at Uva to pick up a good bottle of wine for our Valentine’s Day dinner, we went into the city to go to the Greenmarket at Union Square. With Mike working so close I don’t go there as often as I used to, so I was anxious to see what sort of treasures we could find at the winter market.
I was delighted to see Yuno’s Farm there on a one-off winter appearance. They weren’t selling a wide variety of things, but I was immediately drawn to these beautiful young mustard greens with their spiky green and violet leaves (which reminded me of a Disney villainess). I filled a bag and moved on, already beginning to change my plans for our meatless Monday dinner.
By the time we finished our shopping, we had a beautiful selection of root vegetables, grass-fed Angus fillets and pork sausages for later in the week, and those beautiful greens. We headed home with our bounty, ducking in to Essex Market to visit our favorite cheese goddess, and I revamped our meal plan for the week.
Since my recent experiments with roasting beets have been so well received, I decided to roast them again along with some multicolored potatoes and carrots and Silver Queen turnips from Windfall Farm. I tossed my roasted vegetables with a mustard vinaigrette and placed them on a bed of our mustard greens, then topped them off with a poached egg.
I was pleased enough with how these salads came out – they were certainly pretty to look at and the texture of the roasted vegetables and creamy egg worked well together – but I would have liked a little more flavor contrast, perhaps from a bit of sharp or tangy cheese or a punchier vinaigrette. This is definitely a dish we’ll have again.
As I’ve said before, I really believe that you eat with your eyes first, so I like to spend a little time on plating. Our dinner last night wasn’t anything fancy – a combination of beets, fingerlings and purple potatoes tossed with salt, olive oil and Herbes de Provence and then roasted in the oven, a salmon filet seasoned with salt and pepper and seared on the stovetop, my basic mustard vinaigrette and some pretty microgreens – but the presentation (and flavor) garnered a big “WOW” from my husband. It’s nice to know I can still knock his socks off from time to time.
I have a little notebook which I carry around with me, and as inspiration strikes I jot down ideas for meals or combinations of ingredients I’d like to try. As the weather turned colder and the selection of local veggies at the Greenmarket got smaller, I began to think about beets. Which, historically, neither of us has been particularly crazy about. At all.
But in our continuing quest to broaden our palates, we decided to give beets another chance, so from time to time I would write down a few thoughts about what to do with them. There was borscht, obviously, and also some sort of beet/goat cheese combo, but I like to think my best idea was this:
beets + beet greens + farro + bacon
Because really, what doesn’t bacon improve?
So when I sent Mike off to the Greenmarket yesterday morning, I asked him to pick up some beets, preferably with the tops still attached, as well as some of our favorite Tamarack bacon. He reported back that the only beets he could find were trimmed, but he was kind enough to go back at lunchtime and pick up some young red chard at my request.
After weighing my cooking and cleaning options, I decided to roast the beets in a foil pouch. I placed them into a 375 oven for about an hour and got to work on the rest of my ingredients while they cooked. I chopped four strips of bacon into about 1 inch pieces and placed them into a skillet to fry. In a separate pan, I cooked a cup of farro until it was tender but not too soft. When the bacon was crisp, I removed it from the fat and set it aside, and then removed about half of the fat and set that aside as well.
When the beets were cooked and cool enough to handle, I peeled them with a paring knife and cut them into chunks. I tossed them in with the cooked farro, then added the bacon and gave it all a gentle stir. I warmed up the fat that was still in the pan from cooking the bacon, added one finely chopped garlic clove and cooked it just until fragrant, then added my roughly chopped chard and a pinch of salt. When the greens were just wilted but still bright green, I removed them from the heat and added them to the beet/bacon/farro mixture. I placed the reserved bacon fat back into the pan to warm, then poured it, along with another pinch of salt and a healthy splash of sherry vinegar, over the mixture and gave it another stir.
The farro turned a rather comical shade of fuschia when it was tossed with the beets, but I have to admit that the deep red beets and bright greens were a nice change of pace from the red/brown palette of our recent meals. But did this dish change our minds about beets?
I’m pleased to report that it did. As I suspected the combination of flavors worked really well together, and the flavor of those roasted beets was far, far superior to anything we had tasted growing up. As it turns out, beets are yummy. Who knew?