BY PENELOPE MOORE
The earthiness of the beets, beet greens and sheep cheeses are a beautiful combination. Ricotta salata is a dense sheep cheese made from curds and whey, readily available in most grocery stores. The locatelli or pecorino romano is also made from sheep’s milk and is aromatic. Orecchiette pasta are shaped like coins and literally mean “little ears.” I have tried other shapes of pastas and have found that this size and density suit the beet sauce quite well.
At this time of year, beet greens are easy to find at farm stands. Unfortunately many grocery stores cut off the greens and sell just the beets. The ones used here were from Sang Lee Farms.
This has always been one of my favorite dishes, one that can be made in advance, is economical and healthy, and always a winner.
Beet Greens Pasta with Ricotta Salata
One bunch beets with greens still attached
1/2 pound ricotta salata
1 box (or one pound) orecchiette
4 tablespoons olive oil + additional olive oil for pasta
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 15-ounce can chicken broth
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees.
Separate beets from stems, wash, dry, coat beets with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Put in oven and bake for 2 hours or until tender.
Separate stems from the beet leaves and boil stems in lightly salted water until done. Remove from pot, reserving hot water, rinse in cold water and set aside.
Cook beet leaves in same pot until done, remove, rinse in cold water and set aside.
Some beet bunches have few leaves. You can augment with red kale leaves and stems, if desired.
When easy to the touch, chop stems into small pieces. The leaves can be stacked and chopped in uniform-sized pieces.
When beets are finished, cut off and discard tops. Peel back skins and discard. Cut the rest of the beets into uniform pieces.
Place sautée pan over medium heat and allow to get hot, then add olive oil.
When olive oil is hot, add one clove garlic cut in half. When light brown, add beets and combine well.
Add wine and cook for 5 minutes until alcohol has burned off.
Add stems, then chicken broth and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, then turn down flame.
Add beet leaves, but do not overcook.
Cut ricotta salata into uniform cubes.
Bring reserved beet water to boil, augmenting water as needed, and cook orecchiette according to package directions.
Drain cooked pasta. In emptied pasta pot, add olive oil to bottom, and after shaking excess water from pasta, put orecchiette back into pot and coat pasta with oil.
Add beet sauce to pasta and combine well, then add ricotta salata and combine carefully as not to break up cheese. Garnish with rosemary.
Serve with locatelli cheese.