While in the PYO fields at distribution time, it has come to my attention that many folks do not seem to know how to pick tomatillos or husk cherries. Do not fret….if you are not familiar with it, how would you know? So I thought I would take a minute to discuss how to harvest these gems, which are really, truly gems when they are ripe!
Tomatillos—tomatillos are ready to be harvested when they have filled out the husk they grow in and have caused the husk to burst open at the end. Small tomatillos that barely fill out a husk are immature and will not have the right balance of acidity for the best tomatillo experience. In the beginning of the harvest (we are just getting beyond this), the ripest tomatillos are sitting very close to the ground, so you really have to dig for them. As the growing season progresses, the tomatillos in the upper reaches will begin to fill in and burst through the husk. Just be sure the fruit are still green, however. Yellow tomatillos are over ripe and don’t have the ideal amount of acidity. For longer life, remove the husk from the tomatillo before refrigerating.
Husk cherries—there is truly nothing in the world like a ripe husk cherry—sweet and musky…they are truly unique. However, unripe husk cherries are bitter and sour. The best way to harvest a ripe husk cherry is to pick them up from the ground…literally. Once they have fallen to the ground, they are perfectly ripe. The trick is to get them from the ground before they start to spoil or the ants get them…but, please, do not pick them from the bush…you just won’t get the appropriate taste adventure. Like tomatillos, husk cherries keep best once their husk is removed. Throw away any cherries that have cracks or seem to have deflated…they should be plump and golden colored.
I can’t think of another vegetable that polarizes people more than beets. Folks tend to love them or hate them. I am one of those “odd birds” that fell in love with canned beets as a kid and have just grown fonder of the vegetable as I have experienced it in other culinary forms throughout my life. Beets just scream healthful goodness…you can’t help but feel healthier after eating one. If you are one of those individuals who can’t seem to get into beets, I can only say, “keep trying”. There are so many ways to enjoy this vegetable that there is bound to be a way to your heart somehow.
Beets hail from the same family as chard and spinach. The leaves are a tender green that cooks quickly and tastes a lot like chard. Young leaves are quite good raw, like in salads. It was surprising to me to discover that even the roots, including the deep red ones, are delicious raw in salads like coleslaw. Simply julienne or shred them and toss with your favorite dressing (but be careful, you’ll get a temporary stain on your cutting board)(see below for a raw beet coleslaw recipe). Beet roots are also great cooked.
Beets are a nutritional powerhouse. Whatever you do, don’t toss those greens…they are the healthiest part of the plant and contain loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them one of the most nutritious foods available. However, the roots are far from nutritional duds themselves, offering good sources of folic acid, potassium, fiber, and natural sugars in addition to tons of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Beets can be a few different colors, but are mostly red or golden varieties. The red beets “bleed” when raw or cooked and can stain some surfaces and temporarily discolor others, which is why you might want to consider wearing gloves and being careful when handling them. Golden beets are considered sweeter and milder in flavor than red beets, and won’t bleed or stain. They are a wonderful choice for raw preparations. For grated or julienned beets, it is especially helpful to use a food processor.
Cooking beet bulbs is incredibly easy. To roast, place well washed beet bulbs in a roasting pan with a little water and cover. Roast at 400 degrees for about one hour until beets are completely tender. Once cooked their peels slip off quite easily. Another way to roast beets is to peel and cut them, possibly mix with other root vegetables, and roast in a pan with olive oil and herbs (thyme or sage work great this way).
Beets can also be cooked by steaming, boiling, or grilling (cook in a foil packet for about 1 hour), These are all good cooking options for hot days when you don’t want to run the oven. Cooked beets are wonderful tossed with butter or olive oil and herbs and eaten as a side dish. They are also terrific in salads or pureed and made into soups.
Some natural accompaniments for beets include most nuts, sour cream or yogurt, mustard, tangy cheeses, citrus, fresh herbs (dill, tarragon, mint, parsely, basil), ginger, horseradish, cumin, and caraway.
Choose firm, unwrinkled or unblemished beet roots with crisp greens. Cut greens from roots and store each, unwashed, separately in plastic. When separated from the leaves, the roots can last a few weeks in the refrigerator. The leaves, unfortunately, get limp and lose nutrients quickly. Thus the leaves should be used within a few days. To increase the refrigerator life of the greens, try blanching them for a couple of minutes in boiling water, cooling them in an ice bath, and then draining well. Blanched greens will last an additional 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
I recently made fresh fettuccine with red beet puree and then developed a goat cheese and beet green sauce that is divine with it. I’m sure this pasta can be made just as well with golden beets, although it will obviously not be the same beautiful pink color. If you don’t have beet tops, you can use any tender green in the sauce, like chard, spinach, mustard greens, or even kale.
I have successfully frozen the leftover, uncooked, cut pasta. The key is to freeze it in small bundles rather than one big mass, which helps insure that the pasta cooks evenly when it is placed in the boiling water.
Fresh Beet Pasta with Goat Cheese and Beet Greens Serves 4
– 1 bunch beets with beet greens (3-4 beets)
– 2 large eggs
– 2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
– 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking pasta
– 2 teaspoons olive oil
– 1/4 cup minced shallots
– 1/2 cup dry white wine
– 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
– 1 4 ounce package goat cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400. Cut off beet roots leaving about 1-inch stem on top. Wash beet roots well. Place in a foil packet with a few tablespoon of water, close tightly, and lay on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, or until beets are very tender. Remove from oven and open packet to allow beets to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel beets and cut into 1/3″ cubes. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Place beets in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to proceed with recipe).
2. Wash beet greens well. Remove center rib if desired. Stack beet greens and roll up, then slice into thin ribbons. Set aside.
3. To make pasta: In a blender or food processor, blend eggs with 1/2 cup of roasted beet cubes until smooth. Reserve remaining beet cubes for pasta dish. In a large bowl, place flour. Make a well in the center and pour beet/egg mixture into well. Using a wooden spoon or fork, start mixing in the flour little by little from the center until all the flour is incorporated.
4. Remove dough to a non-porous, non staining surface (like sealed granite or a plastic mat). Using your hands, knead dough, lightly flouring if dough gets too sticky, for at least 6 minutes, or until dough is elastic and slightly sticky. Cover in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Both kneading and resting are important elements, so don’t skip these steps.
5. Cut dough into 4 equal portions, keeping one portion out to roll and cut, and leaving the others under plastic until you are ready to roll and cut them. If using a pasta machine, follow manufacturer’s directions for tagliatelle or fettuccini. If rolling and cutting by hand, lightly flour rolling surface with flour (be careful, this pasta can stain certain surfaces. Works fine on granite or plastic mats). Using a rolling pin, roll pasta portion into a large rectangle, adding flour as necessary to get the sheet as thin as possible. When you think it is thin enough, keep rolling….pasta expands somewhat when it is cooked. Try to get it as thin as possible.
Cut pasta into thin noodles using a pizza cutter or your pasta machine. Place on a lightly floured baking pan and shake to coat evenly and lightly with flour. Continue with rest of pasta portions. Sprinkle pasta ribbons periodically with flour to keep them from sticking to each other.
6. To cook pasta and make sauce: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add beet greens and cook, stirring frequently, until greens are wilted and tender, about 5-8 minutes. Add wine and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add 3 ounces of goat cheese and stir until melted and incorporated into a medium thick sauce.
Place half of pasta ribbons in boiling water and stir immediately. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Drain. Immediately place pasta and reserved beet cubes into sauce. Stir to coat and heat through. Turn out into a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining ounce of goat cheese. Serve immediately. (freeze rest of pasta for next time)
Raw beet and raspberry is a natural combination. If you don’t have any more fresh raspberries from the farm, you can use frozen raspberries in this vinaigrette.
Beet and Carrot Slaw with Raspberry Vinaigrette Serves 4
– 12 small carrots, shredded
– 3 large raw beets (red or golden), shredded
– 1/4 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
– 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
– 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
– 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 2 teaspoons Agave nectar or honey
– 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1. Blend raspberries, orange juice, vinegar, Dijon, Agave nectar, and olive oil in a blender until smooth and emulsified. Scrape out into a small bowl. Mix in orange zest and season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Place carrots and beets into a medium bowl. Mix in dressing to taste (you may not want to use all of it). Mix in sunflower seeds and serve immediately.
Most lava cake recipes use almost twice the amount of butter as this lighter version….the beets replace moisture and give the cakes a deep, rich flavor. Just be careful not to overcook them….nine minutes was perfect in my oven.
Chocolate Beet Lava Cakes Makes 4 cakes
– 1/4 cup finely chopped cooked red beets, packed
– 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
– 2 large eggs
– 2 large egg yolks
– 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 6 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate , finely chopped
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
-fresh whipped cream or ice cream
1. Preheat oven to 400℉. Butter 4 4oz ramekins.
Puree cooked beet with sugar until completely smooth.
2. In a double boiler, melt butter with chocolate, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla extract.
3. Place eggs and egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until mixture is light in color and thick ribbons form. Fold in chocolate mixture, then beet/sugar mixture. Finally, lightly fold in flour. Spoon evenly into buttered ramekins and set ramekins on a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until edges are set but middle is still soft (do not overcook or you will get dry brownies). Remove baking sheet from oven and cool for 5-10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and then turn out onto a small plate, tapping it to release it from the ramekin. Serve immediately with whipped cream or ice cream.