Thursday, October 13, 2011
The other day, as I was canning some of the fifty-two pounds of tomatoes sitting in my kitchen, I heard the scream of an airplane so close it seemed like it could be right outside our second story window.
"The Blue Angels," I thought to myself as I stuffed slippery cold tomatoes into glass jars. And then it occurred to me: the first time I saw the Blue Angles whizzing over the San Francisco Bay was from the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, as I cruised into town with my jam packed Honda and a U-Haul full of stuff. Apparently, I've now lived in San Francisco for three years.
This got me thinking about this fall, and last fall, and the fall before that, and that very first fall in the city, which was a nice, ponderous thing to do with my hands swimming around in tomatoey juice and pulp. I watched the sun set and thought some more. I pulled on a sweater, poured myself a glass of wine, and wandered into the kitchen.
All the canning had delayed dinner. Sean was sick and I was feeling a tad uninspired. For once, I wished that dealing with food was the equivalent of eating it. Couldn't those tomatoes just feed me by osmosis?
But no. I wanted more. Tired of tomatoes, I turned to the Food52 Cookbook and our diminishing CSA vegetables. The recipe I picked -- peasant beets -- was chosen entirely out of necessity. We had beets. We had chard. We had shallots and butter. That was all.
Soon I found myself peeling beets and slicing them into jeweled discs. While the beets caramelized in butter and shallot and salt and pepper, I chopped the beet greens and chard, then tossed them in the pan and doused the whole thing with a bit of white wine. Within a few minutes, the greens had reduced to a tangle. The beets, now an even deeper ruby color, shone.
We ate late, in the semi-dark. The beets, now piled with the greens on a plate, were accented by soft triangles cut from a round of goat cheese. I scattered a few homemade croutons -- big, olive-oily, crunchy ones -- on top and prepared to take a bite.
I could tell you that the beets were good, that I may never oven-roast beets again, that it was an excellent reminder that beet stems and greens are just as good as their colorful companions.
But it was more than that. I can't really explain it, other than to say the beets reminded me of the person I was when I moved to San Francisco. It was the kind of dish I might have made for myself when I lived alone: sophisticated, French. The simple technique and complex flavor was reminiscent of the style of someone who used to cook for me a lot.
Some people describe fall as mournful. And I can see how it can be. Our social calendar slows down, the trees spill their leaves, the days grow shorter and the temperature drops.
But this meal embraced the sweet and bittersweet of the season. The beets reminded me of me: The old me and the new me.
It was a beautiful and necessary thing.
Adapted slightly from the new Food52 Cookbook (I got an advance copy; it's coming out on 10/25)
3-4 large beets with greens
1 bunch Swiss chard, rinsed and dried
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine
1/2 pound Boucheron or other fine goat cheese, at room temperature, cut into 4 wedges
Crusty peasant-style bread, toasted
Scrub and peel beets. Remove the greens, wash and dry them, and chop coarsely. Set the greens aside in a large prep bowl. Slice the beets into 1/4 inch slices.
Remove the ribs from the Swiss chard and coarsely chop the ribs. Toss the leaves and the ribs into the bowl with the beet greens.
In a large saute pan, melt the butter and saute the shallot over medium heat until softened. Add the beet rounds to the shallot-butter mixture. Toss in a pinch of salt and crack some pepper over the beets. Reduce heat and saute, turning to ensure even cooking, until the beets are beginning to glaze and become tender, about 15 minutes.
Add the beet greens, chard, and chard ribs and saute for about five minutes, then add the wine and cover. Cook until the greens are wilted, adding two tablespoons of water if necessary. Allow the liquid to be mostly absorbed into the greens. Taste and season, if necessary.
Scoop the greens and beets into a shallow bowl. Serve with a generous wedge of goat cheese and crusty, toasted bread.
Serves 2 people as an entree, 4 as a side dish.