Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spaghetti, Redefined

I have said this before and am saying it again now, I love beet greens! They are delicious, gorgeous, and full of nutrients (protein, folate, dietary fiber, vitamins A, K, and E… I could go on). Beet greens are meant to be cooked and eaten!

Growing up, one of my favorite foods was my Mama’s spaghetti. If I were still living at home, I would ask her to make it for me time and again. Unfortunately, we live thousands of miles away from each other so I have to take care of myself.

When I say spaghetti, I’m really talking about those long noodles with tomato sauce and lots of cheese. But in reality, spaghetti is the name of the long and thin pasta noodles, tomato sauce excluded.

Last week, I made a spaghetti dish with beet greens (along with the stems) in it and NO tomato sauce. It was the simplest of all meals but full of goodness. Perhaps this is what vegetable heaven is like. If you wonder about beet green taste, they are similar to spinach, but a little richer. You can taste them more because they don’t wilt into nothing like spinach does.   

For this recipe, all you need other than the spaghetti and beet greens are a few basic things: good olive oil, garlic, an onion, mushrooms, a bell pepper, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh lemon juice. A good amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or cheddar cheese completes the dish.

This dish tastes just like all the ingredients in it. No special sauces and spices are added in for extra flavor… it is what it is. Sometimes it is good to experience the real taste of vegetables without covering them up too much and that’s exactly what you get in this dish. I have to say though, that splash of fresh lemon juice brightens this dish up, so don’t skip it!

Beet Green Spaghetti (Makes 4-5 servings)

6 oz angel hair pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion (8 ½ oz), sliced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
beet green stems, separated from the leaves, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 bunch beet greens (7 oz), chopped
1 small bell pepper (4 ½ oz), sliced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
fresh lemon juice from half of a large lemon, plus more to taste (try to remove the seeds first)
Parmesan or cheddar cheese (freshly grated)

Fill a large pot halfway full of water and toss in a generous pinch of salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil over medium heat. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook until just tender, 5-6 minutes.

While the water is boiling, cook the vegetables. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until it turns golden brown for a little over a minute. Add the onion slices and a pinch of salt. Cook until soft and translucent, stirring every now and then, for about 5 minutes. Throw in the mushrooms and then a pinch of salt. Sauté until soft and shiny, about 4 minutes.

Add the beet stems into the pan with a small sprinkle of salt and cook for about 2 minutes. Toss in the beet greens, with a generous pinch of salt, and cook until they wilt, about 2 minutes. Throw in the bell pepper slices, oregano, and thyme with a pinch of salt and cook for about 6 minutes. Add a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and a little more salt to taste. Turn off the heat and set aside while waiting for the pasta to be done.

When the pasta is done, bring the pan of vegetables back to the stove and turn the heat on to medium low. Move the pasta into the pan using a slotted spoon. A bit of water will come with the pasta and that is good. You need the water to help the vegetable and the pasta bind together. Toss everything together until the vegetables are evenly interspersed with the pasta. Taste and see if you need more salt and pepper. If you do, add salt one pinch at a time until it tastes good. Squeeze lemon juice on the pasta and mix everything well, taking care not to overcook and mush up the pasta. Add a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese.

Serve warm and add more cheese if you want.  

Suggestions for the non-vegetable lovers in the family:
- Cook some bacon in a separate pan and set aside. When you’re serving the beet green spaghetti, crumble some bacon on top. 
- Cook some sausage or other ground meat (with a good sprinkling of salt and pepper) after the onion has softened, then add the rest of the ingredients.
- Chop up some leftover meat (rotisserie chicken, deli meat, leftover taco meat, what have you) and toss it in after the onion has softened, then add the rest of the ingredients.     

It’s almost the weekend, hang in there!

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, this sounds fantastic. Beet greens? I have never heard of them. But I definitely want to check these out.
    My aunt also made the BEST spaghetti I have ever tasted. Her secret ingredient was banana ketchup, which I found weird when she told me because I didn't think any banana should be welcome in spaghetti, but yours without tomato sauce is making me see anything is acceptable with spaghetti. :)


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