by Keetje Kuipers | Associate Editor
Last summer I became addicted to Rachel Zucker’s podcast “Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People).” If you’re not familiar with the podcast, Zucker sits down every couple of weeks with a different poet, and has a conversation that attempts to enter a space more intimate than many models of literary interview, conversations that, as Zucker puts it, explore “other non-Literary forms of knowledge that are vital to an artist’s life and work.” As I tried to find the time to listen to the episodes (many of which run well over an hour, and which Zucker smartly refuses to trim down to a more manageable size), I realized that the biggest chunk of time I could often carve out was during dinner prep. In our house, we call this magical time of day ‘cocktail hour’: Mommy gets to have a drink and my daughter gets to watch a show (or five shows, whatever). As I devised more and more elaborate culinary excuses to stay in the kitchen with my earphones in, I also sought out a variety of literary podcasts that fit into the prep time that I had available on any given day. Sometimes this meant a twenty minute mini-podcast from Andrew Leland’s The Organist paired with a box of macaroni and cheese and a bag of frozen peas. Other times it meant a four course feast and a binge-listen to multiple episodes of David Naimon’s Between the Covers. In this monthly series at Poetry Northwest, I’ll be pairing recipes and podcasts that clock in right around the same time. As I delve back into various podcast archives, I hope to pair an episode that you missed (or that it wouldn’t hurt to listen to again) with a seasonal recipe that you can prep in the same amount of time.
Spring can be a confusing time of year, especially here in Seattle when the days—a rainy, cold slog to the coffee shop on Monday, then sunburned after sprawling among the tiny daisies at the park on Tuesday—are as changeable as my moods and, hence, my cravings. It can be hard to know what to eat when you’re not sure you should be shopping for cold weather comfort food or picking out ingredients for a giant dinner salad. Beets, I feel, bridge the gap. The following recipe is light and fresh and takes advantage of some of the items that may be showing up at your local farmers market these days, but at the same time has the hearty backbone of a dish to keep you warm through the last of those chilly spring evenings. Here I’ve paired it with Rachel Zucker’s conversation with Cathy Park Hong, for no better reason than that the episode simply knocks my socks off every time I listen to it (and also, clocking in at an hour and a half, it gives you plenty of time to roast some beets).
Double Beet Spring Pasta
3 large golden beets with tops, greens washed and sliced into strips*
3 large red beets with tops, greens washed and sliced into strips*
½ C walnuts
12 cloves of garlic (yes, you read that right)
2 T sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lb. spaghetti
1 large onion, chopped
red pepper flakes
1 small package of crumbled goat cheese
salt and pepper
*Note: If your beets have already lost their tops on their way to the grocery store aisle, feel free to substitute kale or another hardy green like Swiss chard in their place.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove tops from beets and set aside. Place beets in a baking dish; add ½ C water and cover tightly with tin foil. Bake for 1 hour until tender.
- While the beets are roasting, toast the walnuts in a large sauté pan on the stove (this is the pan you’ll eventually be cooking the entire dish in, so go big). Set aside.
- Once the beets are done, allow them to cool and remove the skins by peeling them away with your fingers (fair warning: your hands will turn a semi-permanent shade of pink). Cut into ¼ inch slices and set just the golden beet pieces aside.
- Combine just the red beet pieces, 4 whole cloves of garlic, toasted walnuts, plenty of olive oil, the sundried tomatoes, and salt and pepper in a food processor and puree, adding additional olive oil as necessary, until smooth. Set aside.
- Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 2 C cooking liquid. Toss the spaghetti with olive oil and set aside.
- Add 2 generous tablespoons of olive oil to your large sauté pan. Sauté the onion for 5 minutes, then add 8 minced cloves of garlic and sauté for 5 minutes more. Add chopped beet tops, more olive oil, red pepper flakes (to your preference), and salt and pepper, and sauté 10 minutes more. Remove from heat, and add your spaghetti, the pureed beet sauce, and your reserved pasta water to the pan, tossing together with the greens (if you don’t have a big enough pan, you can combine everything in the pot you used to cook the spaghetti). Serve topped with golden beets and goat cheese!