An Unbeetable Meal
|Right Food for the Season - Early Summer|
|Written by Lizzy Butler|
The other evening I literally made one of the best meals I have ever eaten. It had 4 ingredients. It was made in a trailer. It took 15 minutes. It was heaven. And I am still in awe.
Before the meal details though, a little bit of background information is due first. For the summer of 2010, I have left the local hub of Massachusetts to live and work on an organic fruit orchard in Paonia, Colorado, one of the most beautiful and fertile areas of the state, and in my opinion, the country. It is difficult not to become completely immersed in the ever-present food world that exists here. From orchards, to vegetable farms, to vineyards, to dairy and animal ranches, everyone is somehow directly connected to the local food production, and it shows with how passionate the people here are about what they grow, sell, and eat. It is a small Mecca for anyone who is passionate about food and its important issues.
Because I had just recently arrived to Paonia, I owed a visit to my friend Mark who is a vegetable farmer in Hotchkiss, the town next door. I have known Mark since high school since he was a farmer at Gaining Ground; a non-profit farm and food provider in Concord, MA at which I used to be a volunteer. He has since moved to Hotchkiss, CO and is living with his family on Thistle Whistle Farm where he grows everything you can imagine (or not even imagine) and sells it to his fellow community members and local restaurants. During my visit to him at a local market, I decided I could not pass up his beets that were handsomely clustered in a shallow tub of crisp cold water. I took them home excited to use them at some point in the week.
Beets are what I like to call ‘Two-for’ Bonus Vegetables. Just like a winter squash with its seeds inside, you have two separate things to cook and look forward to enjoying with a beet; the leaves and the actual beet root. Both of these things are completely different and extremely delicious, all the while conveniently packaged in one whole vegetable. It’s the best deal out there!
I thought I would leave the beet roots to enjoy for another day (an attempt to spread out the deliciousness), so I focused on the leaves and stems for dinner. Since we have more than 30 guinea hens romping around the orchard these days, we also have dozens of fresh guinea eggs to eat at our disposal everyday. With this in mind, I decided to do one of my favorite things to make when I’m cooking down greens with any other vegetables: to make little indents in the greens right before they’re done cooking and place one egg in each divot.
Since there is steam being produced in the pan from the evaporating water released from the vegetable itself, I put a cover on the pan and let the eggs cook via the hot steam for maybe 3 minutes, just until the yolk becomes ever so slightly opaque. And voila, you have perfectly cooked, runny yolk, eggs happily nestled in your cooked veggies ready to be eaten as an undoubtedly whole and nutritious meal.
Right before I got my plate to sit down and eat, I reached for the salt and pepper to season the dish. For some reason though, I tasted it before seasoning just to see what we were dealing with here. I dropped the salt granules in my fingertips back into the salt bowl as I chewed. It needed nothing. Absolutely nothing. And this wasn’t an “oh, I wont put salt I because I want to be ‘good’ about watching my ‘sodium’.” (Whatever that means when people say it) No. No no. I honestly think a bit of salt is necessary in most dishes, especially vegetable based ones, to give some sort of "oomph" to the flavors involved. Not here. In this case, I actually believed that even the slightest pinch of any additional seasoning would completely ruin the incredible flavor that was going on in my mouth.
The beet green component alone was out of this world. With every bite I seriously started questioning myself about if I had added something to it when it was cooking. Did I black out as it was sautéing and forgot that I added chicken stock or salt or pepper or sugar or something? But the answer was No! The earthy, sweet, savory, hearty, robust flavors were 100% part of the pure beet itself. The garlic added a mild spice, and the egg on top…perfection. My fork broke the runny yolk, and the egg’s impressive, fresh and healthy orange center smothered the greens below, creating a convenient sauce to bring each of the 4 elements of the dish together.
My plan was to have leftovers. What a joke…the pan was clean in no time. I had experienced a fresh food-gasm (I’m sorry…it’s the only way to justly describe it). Mark’s attentive care as a grower, along with the incredibly healthy, nutrient-rich soil made those greens’ flavors miles away from anything I had ever eaten before. Not to mention that they left that soil not long before it entered my pan. And the eggs? They were laid that morning. From guinea hens that run around all day, eating the grasshoppers they love to eat that therefore keeps the orchard clean of the noisy, leaf-eating pests.
I know it may be a hike to get to Thistle Whistle Farm from the New England area (road trip, anyone?), but there are sure to be farms at your favorite farmer’s market that mimic the same type of care and attention to their vegetables that parallel to Mark’s and his phenomenal beet greens.
Because when it comes to farm fresh local food, there’s literally nothing like it.
Beet Greens and Eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Beet greens from one bunch of beets
3 eggs (or any number you’d like)
Rinse and lightly dry the beet greens (some lingering moisture is fine). Strip the leaves from the stems, roughly chop them, and set aside. Chop the stems into about ½” pieces. Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chopped stems and let cook until slightly tender. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the reserved leaves to the pan. Stir and let the leaves cook down. Once fully wilted, take a spoon and make small indents in the greens that are slightly bigger than the size of the egg. Make an indent for every egg you plan to cook. Carefully slip one egg into each indent (I like to crack my eggs into a bowl one at a time and slide them in from the bowl for more control).
Cover the pan and let the eggs cook until your desired doneness. I like a runny egg yolk for a ‘sauce’, so I cook them until the egg white is set and the yolk is just slightly opaque, about 2-3 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper if necessary before spooning out portions, but if youre lucky to find some fresh flavorful beets, you wont need it!
Lizzy is a recent graduate of the University of Vermont with a degree in Spanish. Along with language, Lizzy cites food as her other life's passion. Lizzy recently participated in the program WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) while working on an organic fruit orchard in Colorado and is now back there again after completing her internship at America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated Magazine. Lizzy also has her own blog where she recounts the stories behind the food she eats and creates through her writing and photography (lizzy-onceuponaplate.blogspot.com). Lizzy's food philosophy: "I believe every aspect of the food world is equally as fascinating as they are important to each and every one of us, and am very excited to see where these interests lead me in my professional life."