I took my girls to a local family farm a couple weeks ago. As I continue my personal ongoing research into where my food comes from it’s important to me as a parent that my girls are able to make educated choices about what and how they eat as they grow.
We currently grow a variety of culinary herbs and an accidental tomato plant on our small concrete city deck, but soon we will have a vegetable garden rooted in the earth from which to cultivate and connect.
We’ve been to this farm a handful of times but today I wanted to pick our own produce- I was wanting to get my hands in some dirt. At first both my girls seemed way more interested in riding the rides (Ponies, mommy! Train, mommy!) then running through fields so I immediately plucked a small beet from the ground in the hopes that they would want to play in the dirt for a bit.
City life mostly means my children, and myself, only see produce either on outdoor tables at Farmer’s Markets or in large grocery chains mostly lit by fluorescent bulbs. So when my girls saw me pull that beet out of the dirt the look on their faces was priceless.
Though it also made me sad that this was such a surprising moment for them. I felt it too, I was in awe that this beautiful ruby organic sphere that I already knew was created in the dirt had just been plucked by my two hands.
My friends with farms and gardens are probably giggling at my naive city ways while reading this but for us city kitties, you should know that witnessing this beet birth was pure magic, dammit! In that moment I was a midwife for veggies.
Mia wanted to help me pull more beets but Isabella went a bit ahead with our friends. She had discovered that with a bit of gentle digging she could midwife a carrot out of the earth. Eureka! And because I don’t know how to go anywhere without my camera at the ready, I was able to capture the look on her face when she proudly held up her first carrot yelling Mommy! Mommy! Come here, look what I did!
I don’t know if it’s because my heart is already living on our land and what my greater vision for our family is but I wanted to cry watching my daughter have this experience and connection with food. She is a very picky eater and I often find myself struggling with new ways to help her try new foods.
Vegetables? forget about it. But stop the presses, she tried this carrot!
Earlier in the day I had already formed an idea of what I wanted to make for dinner that evening and a friend from Facebook (Hi Erica!) suggested that I use my beet greens to make pesto. I couldn't wait to come home and play.
Using some of what we already had leftover from our farmers market the day before and some of what we picked at the farm that day, I put together a farm to table dinner of Caramelized beets with goat cheese over quinoa pasta tossed with beet green pesto.
No, it wasn’t the fanciest entrée I’ve ever made and certainly not my first time caramelizing beets or making pesto (my go to for most pasta nights) but the connection I had to this meal simply because I took parts of it straight from the earth was nothing short of love and gratitude for what was being given to my body.
I realized as I savored each bite that this kind of connection to food is more of what I want. I want to connect with my food and my body by knowing exactly where it comes from and how it came to be. I want a connection to food that’s not so much about recipes and technique but about the sensual act of touching and connecting - digging my hands first in the dirt and then in the food. Less store bought and more home grown and home made.
Here is the recipe I made though you should know that I am an intuitive cook which means I don't measure much of anything and combine things to taste. I am not a slave to recipes, I like to play in the kitchen, put on music, make it fun and involve my children whenever possible (children are brilliant pesto makers and food processor turner onners). So please don't take these measurements too seriously, they are merely guidelines and permission to play with your food.
Quinoa pasta with caramelized beets, goat cheese and beet greens pesto
Pasta of choice (I used quinoa pasta from Ancient Harvest)
3-5 beets depending on size
1-2 Tbls of coconut or olive oil
kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup or so of goat cheese
carrot tops if you have them (optional)
about 6-10 basil leaves
nuts of choice - a good handfull or two
(I used pine nuts but use what you have. walnuts would work well here)
juice from half a lemon
a clove or two of garlic, peeled.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and scrub the beets. Cut off the tops and reserve. Cut off the long part of the beet (save for juicing). Cut beets into bite size cubes (I usually just cut them into eighths). Place on a half sheet. Use a tablespoon or two of coconut (or olive) oil and massage around the beets making sure each one gets a bit of an oil treatment. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Pop in the oven for 30 minutes or so. They are done when they darken and are tender. You want them to be dark, this is where the caramelization magic happens.
Cook pasta according to directions while beets are doing their thing.
For the pesto simply throw your peeled garlic, some of your beet greens (save whatever you don't use for juicing, sauteing or compost), carrot tops if using, basil leaves, hand full of nuts, 1/4 cup or so of parmesan cheese, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice into your food processor. While the processor is on, drizzle your olive oil through the top funnel, you will see your pesto emulsify and come together.
I really can't tell you how much olive oil to use, just watch how your pesto comes together, you will feel when it's enough. At this point taste your pesto. This is where you make it your own and play. Adjust ingredients to your taste. Add salt if you need to... perhaps more lemon juice or more greens are needed? You will know. There is no wrong way to do pesto just play with it until it tastes good to you.
This is my four year olds favorite part and she is quite brilliant at it. I think it needs more lemon, she'll tell me. She is spot on right every time.
Drain pasta and return to pot. Add enough pesto to coat the pasta. Add the caramelized beets and toss. If you are like our family you can serve it all in one family style bowl or divide onto individual plates. Crumble goat cheese over the top of your pasta and garnish with a quick chop of pine nuts (or whatever nuts you used in your pesto)