Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fettuccine di Vino with Beets

I've been craving beets lately, which seems like a strange thing to crave. I had never even had anything but canned beets until a few years ago. When I was growing up, my mom almost never used canned vegetables...except for beets. I think she justified it because they take a long time to cook and the canned ones have a similar taste and texture to the fresh ones, in a way that canned green beans or carrots don't (mush city).

Beets are also kind of a weird vegetable because people don't usually think to put them alongside dinner in the same way they might with asparagus or corn. Their flavor is pretty distinct, so they're a little harder to pair with a main dish. They're also purple, which makes them seem a little bit like something you might be served at the mess hall of the Yellow Submarine. Which is possibly a little too psychedelic for some.

The following recipe is from The Spirited Vegetarian by Paulette Mitchell, a cookbook I bought shortly after my 21st birthday and, unfortunately for the book, right before I started eating meat again. So, shamefully, I haven't really made that many recipes from it. I've had, however, great and delicious success with the ones I have tried.

All the recipes have booze in them, which is a good excuse for buying wine on Monday night. And, like this one, many of the recipes are easily made vegan (useful if you're feeling like you need to balance out the naughtiness of pouring booze into your saucepan and, let's be honest, mouth).

The original recipe uses spaghetti instead of fettuccine. I swapped it out because I have a longstanding and inexplicable hatred of spaghetti. Feel free to use whatever long pasta you prefer.

Fettuccine di Vino with Beets
from Paulette Mitchell's The Spirited

makes 4 servings (or 3 if you're hungry)

3 medium red or yellow beets, scrubbed, with 1 inch of stem still on (set aside greens)
8 oz. Fettuccine
2 TB olive oil
1 large sweet onion
2 cups finely chopped reserved beet greens
4 garlic cloves
3/4 c. Merlot or other full-bodied, plummy red wine, with medium tannins
1/4 c. dried currants (don't skip these if you can! they add an interesting sweetness)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 TB lemon juice (from 1 juicy or 1 1/2 lemons)
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
Feta cheese for garnish (I also added pecorino romano because I love cheese)

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the beets and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the beets can be pierced with a knife, about 30 to 45 minutes. When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins (you can score the skin with a paring knife if you need to). Cut the beets into 2" x 1/4" strips, placing wax paper on your cutting board to protect it from purple fever.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the fettuccine 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions suggest. (The pasta should be slightly undercooked, but not crunchy.)

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the beet greens and garlic and stir constantly until the greens are wilted, about 1 minute.

Stir in the beets, wine, dried currants, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. The wine should be reduced but not totally evaporated. Stir in the lemon juice.

When the pasta is cooked according to the above instructions, drain it well. Add it to the beet mixture. Stir over medium heat until it absorbs the wine and turns red. Remove from the heat. Add the pine nuts and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning. (Remember that the feta will add saltiness.)

Garnish plated servings with pepper and feta cheese.

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