I love beets. So whenever I see them, I buy them. At home I wash them off, wrap them in tin foil and roast them. Once cooled, the skin slips off and they’re ready. I stick them in the fridge, and then use them during the week. Usually in some sort of salad.
So on Saturday, when I saw beets at the farmers market I bought what I thought were two huge bunches. The bunches were in fact huge. But most of the bunch was made up by the greens. The beets themselves were actually pretty small. Which is great since I knew they would be tender. But the problem was, I kind of thought I had bought more actual beets than I really had.
Then I remembered my sister had written about using the greens from the beets as well. And these greens – crisp, fresh and a brilliant mix of deep crimson and greens – certainly looked good enough to eat.
I also realized that I had a bag full of orecchiette that I’d brought back from Bari. Orecchiette – which means little ears in Italian – are ear-shaped little pasta shapes that are made in Puglia. One of the most common ways to eat them in Bari is tossed with a sauce made out of cima di rape. Which are basically a kind of turnip green. Near enough to a beet green I figured.
Taking cues from my sister, I separated the tops from the beets, and and then roasted the bulbs as usual. Then I chopped the greens up in ribbons and sauteed them with olive oil and a leek, until all was soft and tender.
There’s something about beets that always makes me want to pair them with a white, salty cheese, like ricotta salata or feta. Luckily I had a wheel of fresh pecorino that I’d bought from a shepherd who hangs out in a bar I frequent near Campo de’ Fiori. (Yes. Those are the kinds of bars I go to. Where shepherds hang out.)
Finally everything got tossed together.
Not only was it delicious, but the orechiette turned the most vivid shad of pink. So pink that I thought “Hmm…maybe I should save this for a holiday-themed post for Valentines Day?”
Then I thought, “Hmmm….not sure I want to recommend eating “Pink Ears for Valentines day.” It somehow doesn’t sound that romantic, does it?
But it is delicious. And in Italian orechiette rosa doesn’t sound so bad.
So file this one away for a pink-themed dinner in February. Or make it right away.
1/2 kilo / 1 pound fresh orechiette
2 bunches of fresh beets, with fresh greens still attached
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup grated ricotta salata (or other type of white, salty cheese. Nothing too aged. Feta will also work)
Preheat oven to 180c/350f
To prepare beets: detach the beet from the leafy tops, reserving them.
Carefully wash the beets and then wrap each one in tin foil. Place in oven for about an hour. Larger beets can take up to an hour and a half to cook.
Rinse greens well, and detach any large stems. Cut the leaves into 1/2 inch ribbons.
Wash leek, making sure to get any grit out. Cut in half lenghwise, and then into thin slices.
Heat olive oil in a pan that is large enough to hold all the cooked pasta.
Add the the chopped leeks. Once they have softened, about 7 minutes, add the greens. Stir well, and add a bit of the broth. Let the greens cook, adding more broth as necessary. They will take anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour to cook, depending on the tenderness.
In the meantime slip the skins off the cooked beets and chop them into wedges.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
Add the pasta to the pan of greens, stirring it over high heat, adding a bit of the cooking water to keep it moist. Once it is heated through, turn off heat and add beets. Stir well.
Add most of the cheese, a handful at a time, stirring. Save some for garnishing.