Friday, February 17, 2012

beet green spaghetti with raisins/cauliflower with hazelnut, pear and sage

This is this sort of meal I miss making now, in the dead of winter. God, I can't wait for spring! When the food co-op is in full swing, our fridge is chock full of all sorts of weird veggie odds and ends, and it's both a pleasure and a challenge to use that bounty as fully and creatively as I can. For instance: you don't often see them at the grocery store, but there are a lots of vegetables that come with a bunch of leafy greens growing out of one end. Most of the time, those go to waste, which is a shame because those greens can be really tasty, whether they come from turnips, radishes or yes, even beets.

Today I have an interesting pasta dish that makes good use of lots of beet greens, plus raisins, garlic and other good stuff, accompanied by a nice side of roasted cauliflower with pears and toasted hazelnuts. The pears, cauliflower, beet tops and even the onion and garlic all came from the food co-op, and aside from the hazelnuts all of the other ingredients were things I had in the pantry.

The spaghetti doesn't have much of a sauce, but it isn't dry either, and between the red onion, the mint, the raisins and the beet greens, there is plenty of flavor going on. The raisins (or currants in the original recipe, which I couldn't find) add an unexpected sweetness to the pasta that I'm actually not 100% convinced I love, but was certainly unusually interesting, and that wasn't a bad thing either. I think it could have used some grated cheese on top, but maybe that's just the Italian in me...

I've not had huge success with cauliflower latel. I think I am just impatient maybe, or that I am used to fairly soft steamed cauliflower and I just need to adjust the cooking times in recipes of other kinds to my preference, as I felt that this was a little too crunchy. The flavor combinations were spot on though, and it was a great way to incorporate pears into a savory dish. Hazelnuts and sage were also really delicious.

Both recipes were solid and while I might not go out of my way to buy all the ingredients to make them, I would definitely keep them in mind my weekly vegetable share worked out that way again.

Beet-Green Pasta
adapted from Alice Water's Chez Panisse Vegetables by way of Rocket Lunch

3 to 4 bunches beet greens (about 2 pounds)
1 small bunch fresh mint (about ⅛ pound)
½ cup raisins (or currants if you have them)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions, diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 lb spaghetti pasta
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (optional)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
grated parmesan or romano cheese (optional)

Bring a pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, roughly chop the beet greens and stems into small bite-sized pieces. Thinly slice the mint leaves, discarding the stems.
Once the water comes to a boil, pour just enough water to cover them over the raisins and soak for 15 minutes to rehydrate.

Salt the remainder of the water, and then add the pasta, cooking according to the package. As the pasta cooks, heat half the olive oil in a skillet, and then add the garlic, onions and bay leaf sauteing over medium heat for five minutes or until soft, and then remove the bay leaf. Add the beet leaves and stems and the raisins (having drained the hot water of course) and cook 5 minutes more, covered.

At this point, the pasta is probably ready, so take it off the heat and drain it. Uncover and season the beet and onion mixture with salt and pepper, and add the mint leaves. Toss the spaghetti with the sauce, moistening it with a ladle of the pasta water and the rest of the olive oil. Add vinegar and cayenne pepper if desired, and serve immediately with grated cheese.

Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Pear, Sage, and Hazelnuts
adapted from Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman's Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food. by way of Serious Eats

½ cup hazelnuts
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
4 fresh sage leaves, julienned
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium firm-ripe Bosc pear
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Toast hazelnuts in a frying pan, shaking the pan often to prevent burning. When hazelnuts are cool enough to handle, finely chop and set aside. Turn the pan back up to medium high, and add butter, letting it bubble and start to brown. Add cauliflower, sage, chopped hazelnuts, and some salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and has caramelized in spots, 10 to 15 minutes, or longer if you're like me and don't want crunchy cauliflower.

Quarter and core pear and slice thinly. Add pear and parsley to cauliflower mixture, stir to distribute, and taste for seasoning.

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