Wednesday, June 30, 2010

a vegetable in their own right

The bar review lectures have been wreaking havoc on my sense of time.

Today I looked at the calendar and did a classic double-take. I swear it was barely a week ago that I'd finished finals, graduated, and started my bar review course, but the calendar tells me June is almost over, and July is just ahead.

Were it just the calendar, I might attribute it to clerical error or computer malfunction, but the produce at the farmer's market is proof I can't ignore. Strawberries are on their way out. Blueberries and raspberries are coming in. Squash and beets are in full force.

There are two kinds of people who buy beets at the farmer's market: those who ask to have the tops taken off their beets, and those who will raise high hell if anyone so much as hints at removing the greens.

I am one of the latter. I insist that my beets remain wholly intact, and I have been known to take other people's unwanted greens when I've found myself right behind them in the queue.

You can have my beet greens when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers.

Unlike carrot fronds, which aren't good eating, or rhubarb leaves, which are downright toxic, beet greens are a vegetable in their own right. They're a little earthy, like beets themselves, but they have a fresh green flavor that's very close to spinach. (They're similarly rich in iron, too.)

Beet greens make for a good addition to soups and stews, and they're also a tasty side dish when sauteed with garlic, but I particularly like them with eggs. There's an excellent tradition in France and Italy of baking greens into savory tarts, and that was the idea that came to mind when I considered my latest bunch of beets.

The French make tarte aux blettes, a rich quiche of Swiss chard and lardons, and the Italians have torta salata di verdure, which typically involves wild greens and cheese.

I decided to mix and match, starting with a very French pastry shell (made with whole wheat flour for extra flavor) and filling it with an Italian-inspired mixture of beet greens, eggs, sauteed onions, caramelized garlic, and ricotta, with a little goat's cheese sprinkled on top. Baked until just set, the tart, warm and fragrant, was good enough to eat without a fork.

If you're going to pick up beets at the farmer's market, I encourage you to hang on to the greens. Still, if you insist on discarding them, do me a favor and stand right ahead of me in the queue. I'll gladly take them off your hands.

Beet Green Tart

Beet greens are tougher than spinach, and benefit from being blanched before they're sauteed. Blanching and shocking is also a good way of prepping beet greens if you have no particular plan for them - they'll keep longer in the fridge than uncooked greens, which start to wilt after a day or so.

(Makes one eight-inch tart. Leftovers may be frozen, though the pastry will soften.)

Dump three-quarters of a cup of whole wheat flour in a big bowl. Add a generous pinch of salt.

Cut in three-quarters of a stick of cold butter. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture mostly resembles breadcrumbs, but some lumps (pea-sized or smaller) still remain. Add four to five tablespoons of cold or ice water, and mix until everything just comes together. If the mixture is still very dry, add a little more water.

Press the pastry into an eight-inch false-bottomed tart pan, and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Set the tart pan on a baking tray. Bake the tart shell for fifteen minutes, then set the tart shell aside to cool (leave it on the baking tray.)

Next, either bump up the heat in the oven to 450F, or turn on your broiler. Take four unpeeled cloves of garlic, put them on a baking sheet, and put them in the oven.

While the garlic roasts, set a pot of salted water on to boil.

Cut the greens off one bunch of beets (around four or five beets) and rinse them well to get rid of any dirt or grit. Cut the greens into wide ribbons.

Cook the greens in boiling water for two to three minutes, then dump them in a colander and shock with cold water. Squeeze the greens to get rid of any water. Chop them finely, and set aside.

Take the garlic out of the oven. Turn the heat back down to 350F.

Cut a small onion into half-moons and saute in a heavy pan with a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a healthy sprinkling of fresh black pepper. Peel the roasted garlic and add it to the pan along with the blanched beet greens. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warmed through.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a mixing bowl. Stir in one-third of a cup of ricotta. Beat in three eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Fill the tart shell with the egg mixture, and sprinkle with crumbled fresh goat's cheese. Bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until mixture is just set in the middle. If you like, the tart can go under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the goat's cheese.

Allow to cool a little before serving, but serve warm.


Pam said...

I can picture you now, standing at the farmers market and beating a poor farmer about the head with your greens.

adele said...

Pam - No, no. That would bruise the leaves! :P

Bethany said...

Any ideas on what to do with the beets themselves? The greens sound awesome now but I'm a little anxious about beets themselves (haven't had them since I was super little).

Good luck with the bar. You've probably already heard Sabah's joke...2 law students walk into a bar, after 3 days they emerge and one says to the other, "I'm going to need a drink after that"

adele said...

Bethany - I like to roast beets and eat them in a salad with goat's cheese, walnuts, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I also like them sprinkled with coarse salt and topped with fresh ricotta.

To roast beets, rinse off the beets, trim off the long tails, cut them in half, and wrap in foil. Bake in a very hot oven (450F or so) until tender - give it half an hour or so. Let them cool. The skins will slip right off.

Bethany said...

Stupid question--so they're not like potatoes? I throw the skin out? I'm that annoying girl at the farmer's market asking what to do with chard. Sorry :(

adele said...

Bethany - Not a stupid question at all! (Believe me, no-one knows what to do with chard without either asking the farmer or turning to the wisdom of Google.)

Beets are like older carrots - the skin is edible, but thick and not very tasty.

Eliza said...

Thanks for this, I love learning about cooking.

I am trying to get a feel for greens of all kinds. How do you know when the beet greens are too old? Or do they not get bitter like other greens?


adele said...

Eliza - I haven't had any problems with bitter beet greens, but I tend to buy young beets (small ones.) Choose a bunch with leaves that are full and dark green in color.

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Completely agreed with you about the beet greens ... I pity the fool that tries to remove the tops. They are always so tender. I usually just saute them with some raisins, but I've been looking for something fresh to do with them. I can't wait to try this recipe out, thanks!

adele said...

Plum - Oooh. I've done escarole sauteed with raisins - I'll have to try it with beet greens!