The Beet(en) Generation

31 May

Getting back into the groove after a long, relaxing vacation can be no easy feat.

The house always looks a little sad and dejected and in need of cleaning. The fridge is always empty. There’s a mountain of laundry to be done. Photos need to be uploaded and sorted. Spam needs to be deleted. Bills need to be payed. In fact, it can be so depressing, all that hard won relaxation can just *poof* disappear.

U of C Boulder Campus

But this time was different.

A few months back I started some basil and sage plants from seed. I fretted over their survival endlessly before leaving for Colorado. I had no plant nanny to look after them, no self-watering pots. I had to put “the kids” out on the back fire escape and hope that nature would take care of them, that they would learn to stand on their own.

And just like real kids who have been granted their freedom, my “kids” thrived. This was exactly the result I was hoping for. I had promised myself and The Boy that if they survived the week we were gone, we could plant a real “garden” on the fire escape.

Baby Sage

And so on the bright, balmy first day back, we hauled home 40 pounds of potting soil, various pots, 6 pepper plants, 4 strawberry plants, 1 English thyme plant, 1 French lavender plant and 6 tomato plants of 3 varieties. We sat on our front stoop, arms and legs covered in dirt and transplanted all the new “kids” into their new homes. Neighbors stopped by to chat and offer encouragement and extra pots. It made being home feel that much more amazing.

I also planted some radish and carrot seeds. Nigel Slater wrote in The Kitchen Diaries that radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in one’s kitchen garden; that they’re fast, can be planted multiple times in one year, and obviously delicious.

Peppers, Basil, Strawberries, Lavender, Sage, Thyme & the future home of Radishes

I’m sure Nigel meant that they’re wonderful to grow in terra firma, but we thought we’d give it a go in a container. So far the radishes have gone gonzo, they sprouted in one day, and are already about 1/2″ high (my “kids” are such overachievers!), the carrots? Not so much. There’s maybe 2 sprouts to be seen. But I’m sure they’ll catch up. Carrots are the smartest vegetables in the root vege family.

With so much time lavished on the hopes and dreams of dinners future, I totally forgot to think about dinner present. There was nothing in the fridge so I turned to my pantry. As usual, she had my back.

High up on the top shelf, shyly hiding behind my box grater was a vacuum-packed flat of roasted beets.


Years and years ago someone gave my Mom Diane Seed’s More Great Pasta Dishes (the “More” is a reference back to her original work, The Top 100 Pasta Sauces, also worth searching out). I was vegetarian at the time, so Mom methodically worked her way through all the veggie recipes until she got to one that caused a serious kerfuffle amongst the family.

Me: Mom, what’s for dinner?

Mom: Pasta with roasted beets?

Me: Whaaaaat??? EWH! But Moooooooooom! That sounds disgusting!

Step-Dad: Awh gee Beck, really? Pasta? With Beets? I think I have to go with Annie on this one.

Mom: Oh will you two just stop. I’m going to make it, and you’re going to eat it.

And make it she did. And eat it we did. Every. Last. Speck.

I think my step-dad might have even licked his plate.

Beet Pasta

The concept is a little strange, but ohmygod, this might just be the one of the best pasta dishes on the face of the earth. My step-dad now requests it every year for his birthday dinner.

I prefer to roast my own beets, but as anyone who has ever roasted their own beet can tell you, beets take a loooong time to roast. It was Sunday at 6pm. I was not about to tromp out to the Korean deli, buy beets and then wait two hours for them to cook, oh no, not when I had some already roasted, and diced I might add, on hand.

And so as I stirred and whirred I was able to simultaneously scare the beejezus out of some baby squirrels that wanted to play in all my freshly planted dirt. Fred may have disappeared, but luckily the next door neighbors tuxedo cat (whom we have dubbed Black Fred (you know, like Black Bart, the pirate and/or cowboy)) is always up for chasing and harassing squirrels. And I think having her around has worked. I’ve seen no more evidence of squirrely activity since then (knock on wood).

Beet Pasta

The boy was as skeptical about this dish as my step-father and I were all those many years ago, but just like us, he was won over by the earthy, sweet, salty and minty sauce. In the past I’ve made other variations on this dish. I’ve made it as a pasta salad (pretty good) and as a risotto (very good). Someday I’d like to adapt it into a soup as well, maybe with a mint pistou.

And so, plants planted, beet phobias set aside, emails deleted, pictures sorted, house tidied, we’re both impatiently awaiting tonight’s dinner when we get to eat the leftovers with some local asparagus thrown in for good measure.

My stomach’s already rumbling in anticipation.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Beet Pasta.

Beet Pasta

prep time: 20 minutes (or 2 hours 20 minutes if you roast your own beets) ~ cooking time: 30 minutes

  • 1 Sweet Onion, roughly chopped
  • 5 cloves Garlic, roughly chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 c. Dry Vermouth
  • 1 lb Roasted Beet, chopped or diced
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 c. Cream or Milk
  • 1 lb Pasta (use something frilly and pretty, like Farfalle or Campanelle)
  • Salt
  • Knob of Butter
  • 1/2 c. Grated Hard Cheese (Parmesan or Romano)
  • A lot of finely sliced or chiffonaded Mint

Set a large pot of heavily salted water over a high flame and bring to a boil.

Place a large skillet over a medium flame. Add a glug of olive oil and the onions. Allow to cook for a few minutes then add the garlic. Cook until well softened. Turn the flame up to high and add the vermouth. Allow to cook down a few minutes and add the beets. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.

Cook your pasta in the pot of boiling, salted water.

Carefully scoop the beet mixture into a food processor of blender. Add the lemon juice and cream or milk. If you have to work in multiple batches add the lemon juice and cream to the last batch and then fully incorporate that batch into the already puréed batches. Process until fully puréed, but still a wee bit chunky. Return the sauce to the skillet and cook gently over a medium flame. Season with salt, add the knob of butter and the cheese.

Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the sauce. Stir to coat and cook for 3 minutes over high heat.

To serve: Sprinkle a generous amount of mint over each serving. This pasta is best with lots of mint and fresh cracked pepper, and maybe a little extra cheese or salt. Enjoy!

This recipe is adapted from Farfalle alle barbabietole rosse or Red Butterflies With Parmesan which appears in Diane Seed’s 1992 book More Great Pasta Dishes.


19 Responses to “The Beet(en) Generation”

  1. deinin May 31, 2007 at 9:43 am #

    Oh, that beet pasta looks… well, it looks a bit odd, yes, but it sounds divine. I think I’ll try it as a risotto the next time I have beets on hand. And your container garden looks very promising!

  2. Lisa (Homesick Texan) May 31, 2007 at 9:49 am #

    Nice garden you have going there! Two weeks ago I took the plunge with six herbs, and while they’re still inside, they’re moving along quite well (except for the dill which is an underachiever.) I think this weekend I’ll have to pick up some radishes. A friend used to grow strawberries on his balcony, but the squirrels ate them all. To retaliate, he grew habaneros, which they also ate, but strangely enough, they never returned.

  3. Lydia May 31, 2007 at 10:32 am #

    Love your garden — proves that you do not need a lot of real estate to have a wonderful garden! I’m still concentrating on herbs, which I trade for veggies with some of my more ambitious gardening friends. (the beet pasta is beautiful, too!)

  4. Terry B May 31, 2007 at 11:34 am #

    If you can find room for one more pot, plant some rosemary. That and basil are my two must haves every year.

  5. Luisa May 31, 2007 at 4:11 pm #

    Love your garden! Keep me posted on the radish growth. And thank you for that pasta recipe. It sounds delicious. Beets with mint are so inspired but I would have never thought to combine them into a sauce for pasta.

  6. jenblossom May 31, 2007 at 6:18 pm #

    Welcome back! It looks and sounds like you had a wonderful trip, and your container garden looks awesome!

  7. ann May 31, 2007 at 9:34 pm #

    Denin — Thanks! It is odd, that I will not deny. I hope if you try it you love it. Thanks for the compliment on the garden. Send good anti-squirrel karma my way.

    Lisa(ht) — You’ve given me the best idea… I think I’ll move the strawberries closer to the apartment’s wall, placing the hot peppers strategically in front of the good stuff… I hope your herbs live long and prosper!

    Lydia — What a great trade, herbs for veggies!

    TerryB — I tried rosemary a year or two ago and it was, like, a massacre. I’ve been afraid to try again ever since… But now that my neighbor gave me some extra pots, maybe I’ll try again. I do love rosemary!

    Luisa — Will do. I wish I could claim the beet/mint combo for my own… but it’s more likely that one of your long-lost Italian ancestors invented it 100 years ago.

    Jen — Thanks! I bet your garden’s doing just as well… and the kitties too!

  8. izzy's mama June 1, 2007 at 8:32 pm #

    I am sooooooo jealous of your little garden. I have a fairly large yard (by city yard standards) and lots of room. I just haven’t gotten around to the gardening thing. Though yesterday Izzy forced me into buying some seeds at Target. He has been planting seeds with his class at school so hopefully we will do something at home.

    As for those beets.. I had to do a doubletake with the photo. Everything you make always sounds and looks fabulous but I must admit..even though I love beets..those look a tad peculiar. I am afraid, very afraid..

  9. ann June 3, 2007 at 9:34 pm #

    HA, Izzy’s Mama, uh, I never thought of it that way, but now that you point it out, yeah, those noodles may not be the most picturesque things I’ve ever posted!

    I bet you could get Izzy interested in gardening, my mom got me hooked on it, mainly by having me join 4-H. As soon as I found out I could win blue ribbons simply by growing some radishes and entering them into a show, I was hooked!

  10. sher June 4, 2007 at 1:05 am #

    Ah, the beet pasta looks marvelous. And I love to grow radishes. I like to plant heavily, then thin the seedlings and use them in a salad. They taste wonderful mixed with lettuce.

  11. Virginia June 4, 2007 at 9:06 pm #

    My garden beets are not ready to be roasted yet (and may never be if this year’s beet patch goes like my last two), but I have the mint and the farmer’s market is open!

  12. Carolyn T June 5, 2007 at 11:05 am #

    Wow, that pasta and beet dish sounds like such an unlikely combination. But because you have raved about it, and gathered legions of family members to love it too (including children, for gosh sake!) I guess I’d better try it!

  13. ann June 5, 2007 at 10:01 pm #

    Sher — we’re so planning to have radish sprout garnished salad one of these nights! I totally oversowed! I’m really happy to know you recommend it!

    Hi Virginia! — I’ll be sending you good beet karma. How’re the boys?

    Carolyn T — Thanks for stopping by! I hope if you decide to try the dish that you’ll love it. It’s wonderful

  14. Rebecca June 7, 2007 at 12:45 pm #

    I believe Laurie Colwin has a whole chapter on beets in one of her Home Cooking books which includes a recipe for pasta with beets that really sounds delicious, maybe not as good as yours, though. I used to hate beets as a kid because of the way they turned everything on your plate red but now I adore them, maybe for the same reason!

  15. merrimerri June 7, 2007 at 6:25 pm #

    I too used to hate beets but that recipe is changing my mind, it sounds so delicious!!!
    Oh and very nice garden, too!

  16. ann June 7, 2007 at 8:09 pm #

    Rebecca — wow, thanks for drawing my attention to Laurie Colwin. Somehow she has flown completely below my radar! I need to find one of her books this weekend. Thanks so much! and yes, I love how beets turn everything red now that I’m an adult. They were so creepy when I was a kid!

    Merrimerri — Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope someday you become a beet lover too. They really are wonderful.

  17. Tiny Banquet Committee June 14, 2007 at 7:53 am #

    Probably your squirrels hopped on the F train and came to my fire escape, having heard there was a sap in the East Village who puts out a buffet of peanuts and walnuts. I’ve given up on growing herbs out there because long before I started feeding them, they were hiding someone else’s nut buffet in my herb pots, and they were very vigorous diggers. I think if you are diligent in shooing them away they’ll move on.
    Before it got to be a real problem, I used to enjoy making pork chops with fireplace herbs: In the morning, marinate pork chops in olive oil, strong Dijon mustard, chopped lavender leaves, thyme, and some garlic. At dinner time, cook them in a grill pan (finishing cooking in the oven if they’re thick) and top with chiffonade of basil. The leftovers are good cold, too.

  18. farmgirl June 17, 2007 at 5:22 pm #

    Your garden is wonderful! I keep telling people they can grow all kinds of edibles even if the only yard they have is a fire escape, and you’re proving it’s true. Thank you! :)

  19. ann June 17, 2007 at 9:10 pm #

    TBC — ha, the idea of squirrels riding the subway is soooo awesome! thanks for the giggle. the pork chop recipe is a sure keeper.

    Farmgirl — thanks for the compliments! I still wish I had your garden, but I’m quite pleased with mine as well… I guess what I really wish is that I had a Donkey Doodle Dandy!

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