Golden Beets & Beet Greens with Whole Wheat Pasta

I used to hate beets. Like, I REALLY hated beets.

I distinctly remember the day I learned to love beets, and the person who showed me they could be really tasty. I was volunteering at Burning River Farm in Frederic, WI in the summer of 2010. We had just spent the morning harvesting produce and packing CSA boxes and it was lunch time. Adrienne, the farm manager, made a pan of roasted red and golden beets, cippolini onions, and garlic (all from the farm, of course). I was really hesitant to try it, given my life-long distaste for beets, but it smelled so good and looked so pretty, I couldn't help but try a spoonful. And another spoonful. And another.

And now, I love beets. When prepared in the proper way and paired with the right accompaniments, whether sliced thin in a salad or roasted in olive oil, they are really good (and good for you, I might add).

This past Saturday, while wandering through the Davis Farmers' Market, I spotted a huge bunch of golden beets from afar. They were by far the prettiest bunch of beets I had ever seen, so I knew I had to get a bunch (and in retrospect I wish I had gotten two). At home, while prepping the beets for roasting, I remembered hearing many times that the greens were edible, so I decided to do a little research on how to prepare them. After perusing the internet and cookbooks, I concocted the recipe below and was amazed at how tasty beet greens are. They seem to be best served with the beets, since the greens are slightly bitter and the beets are slightly sweet, so they compliment each other well. Mixed with caramelized onions adds a bit more sweetness. You can boil the beets (which takes less time than roasting), but you'll miss out on the smokey sweet flavor that comes from roasting.

Pair with a well-balanced Chardonnay (like this one) for a really delicious summer dinner.


Golden Beets & Beet Greens with Whole Wheat Pasta
Serves 2 as a main course

1 large bunch golden beets with greens
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
8 oz whole wheat pasta (farfalle or conchiglie work well)
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
Parmesan cheese
Toasted pine nuts*

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove greens tops and the tails from beets. Rinse the beets to remove any excess dirt. Cut into bite-size pieces; place in a baking dish. Add 2 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss to combine. Roast for 30-45 minutes, or until the beets are easily pierced with a fork.

While the beets are roasting, cook the pasta according to packaged directions. Drain and set aside.

Remove any stems from the beet greens. Gather up the greens and slice as you would swiss chard. Set aside.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and saute for 10 minutes more, until onions are brown and soft. Add garlic; saute for 1 minute. Add the beet greens and saute until the greens are soft and just tender, about 10 minutes (do not allow them to turn dark, as this means they are overcooked). Add the roasted beets and the pasta to the saucepan and saute until heated through. Divide up amongst two bowls and top with Parmesan and toasted pine nuts.

*To toast pine nuts, place in a dry skillet over medium heat and stir until they turn a light brown. You can also use toasted walnuts in this recipe, as pine nuts are sometimes hard to find and can be expensive.


Cool Shiitake Sesame Noodle Salad

I hope my pursuit of the perfect work lunch is not boring you, because I am having way to much fun trying out new things!

Since summer is supposedly here (though the weather in Sacramento seems to be saying otherwise), I wanted to try something more refreshing than my usual soups and stews. The recipe I am sharing with you today is a fabulous Asian-inspired cold noodle salad. It is packed with (vegetarian) protein, veggies, and good carbs so it is sure to fill you up and keep you going for most of your busy afternoon. As always, try to get whatever veggies you can locally; my cabbage, carrots, and mushrooms are all local (as is the honey). If you are lucky to have access to locally produced tofu, this is a great place to use it. This dish would also make a lovely addition to a summer picnic, paired with a crisp unoaked Chardonnay or a citrus-y Sauvignon Blanc.


Cool Shiitake Sesame Noodle Salad
Makes one enormous bowl noodle-y goodness

1 package soba noodles* (8 oz)
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 block extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned to remove the dirt and sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled
1/2 small red cabbage
1/2 c shelled edamame (soybeans)
1 bunch green onions, sliced thin (white parts only)
1/4 c soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp honey or agave nectar
5-10 drops chili oil, to taste
1/4 c toasted sesame oil
Sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain, then rinse with cold water until completely cool. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In a large skillet, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add tofu and saute until slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to saute until mushrooms are soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Grate the carrots and cabbage using the grating blade on a food processor or a box grater. Add to the large mixing bowl with the noodles. Add the edamame and green onions; toss to combine.

Once the mushroom/tofu mixture has cooled, add it to the noodle mixture and toss to combine.

In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 c soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and chili oil. Using a whisk, slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/4 c toasted sesame oil, whisking until combined. Pour over noodle mixture and toss to coat evenly.

Serve sprinkled with the toasted sesame seeds. (I add the seeds the day I am going to eat the salad; adding them sooner causes them to lose their crispiness.)

Keeps in a sealed container in the fridge for about a week. I like to make it the night before to allow the flavors to merry, but you can definitely eat it right away.

*Soba noodles are made of buckwheat available in the Asian section of your grocery store. You can substitute udon noodles (wheat) or any long noodle you like. Just remember, whole-grain noodles are better for you!


Book Club: My Life From Scratch

While I regret having been absent for almost a month now, I promise I have an awesome recipe to share with you :)

This month, my online book club read My Life from Scratch by Gesine Bullock-Prado. Gesine previously worked as an executive in Hollywood (she is Sandra Bullock's sister) but then realized she really hated it and actually really liked baking, so her and her husband moved to Vermont and she opened a (very successful) bakery. I love how simple it sounds, but Gesine is very open with how difficult it actually is to run a bakery: the hours, the customers, the employees, and sometimes even the baked goods. While at times Gesine seems a bit tyrannical about the life she left behind, her perspectives on the wonder of baked goods and the importance of doing something you love made me enjoy the book very much.

All of her recipes sounded amazing, and for that reason alone I highly recommend reading this book. Because cherries are in season right now, I chose to make her cherry filling and make a pie out of it (using a crust recipe I've been making since I was little) to make one rockin' cherry pie. I also will probably make Starry Starry Nights at some point (recipe in the book), and in a moment of guilt in the future, I will order her macaroons from her online store.

I snagged a bag of organic cherries from my co-op, which were sourced from Ferrari Farms in Linden, CA just under 60 miles from here. I then spent the next 20 minutes pitting two pounds of cherries; hard work (made me want to invest in one of these), but totally worth it. With red fingers, a little cherry juice on my Badger t-shirt, and a bowl full of succulent and now pit-less cherries, I was ready to make the filling. Now, the chapter containing this recipe begins with complaints from a regular customer of hers about the pie being gummy one day. That being said, I took extra care in following the instructions to make sure mine was not gummy as well.

I was a little nervous, because I cannot remember having ever made a cherry pie before, and haven't made a pie since the holidays. Even then, I remember having several "run-ins" with the crust and, since the crust makes the pie, I was determined to get it right. For the most part, I did, but noticed after baking that the bottom crust sunk down more than I had expected, leaving less of a crust on the edge, so make sure you leave a lot of extra crust up there by folding the excess over and pinching with your thumb before cutting off the rest.

As I was making this, I noticed some confusing parts how the recipe was written, so the recipe below is slightly different than hers. I also took out the vanilla, just because I didn't want to dilute the cherry flavor. However, I will stick beside her in her claim that sour cherries work best. Honestly, it is really true - sweet cherries are not only too sweet, but they lack the flavor punch that sour cherries provide. If you cannot find fresh sour cherries, Gesine says that frozen cherries are a fine substitute. Plus, you can use this recipe for other fruit pies by simply swapping out the cherries for other summer fruits, such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc. I didn't try other fruit, but if you do, please let me know how it turns out!


Cherry Pie
Makes one eight-inch pie

Pastry for a two-crust pie
5 cups pitted sour cherries (about 2 lbs fresh, unpitted cherries)
1 c sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch*
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c water
1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup water and stir to combine. Continue to add water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches a milk-like consistency. (Gesine's recipe called for only 1/4 cup, but I needed a 1/2 cup to get to the consistency desired in the recipe.)

Heat the cherries, sugar, and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until cherries are soft and the sugar is melted. Add the cornstarch mixture and heat, stirring occasionally, until the filling is thick and bubbly. Keep an eye on it, as if cornstarch is overcooked it will lose its ability to thicken. Remove from heat.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch pie pan with pastry. Pour in the cherry mixture. If you are doing a full top crust, dot a few pieces of cold butter on top of the filling before covering. Otherwise, use the remaining crust to create a lattice-top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until crust is golden.

Serve with Greek yogurt or homemade whipped cream.

*I use Rumford non-GMO cornstarch and highly recommend seeking out a non-GMO cornstarch.