In the minds of most people with an interest in fresh, whole foods or a passion for the farm to table renaissance, the Bay Area of California rhymes with Mecca (what is that, a slant rhyme?). Chez Panisse is regarded with solemn reverence, the farmer’s markets explored with the awestruck combination of trepidation and excitement of Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders. (I can show you some greens, shining, leafy, and splendid, tell me princess have you had cheese that good before?…)
We did have some awesome food there, including the best scone that has ever passed through my lips, and the infamous “Chocolate Thing” from The Cheese Board in Berkeley, which I have vowed to someday recreate for myself. And, you will be able to tell by the number of pictures I have posted of the area exactly how many times I remembered to take my camera out of my bag (I’m afraid I’m not known for having the prepossession to grab a camera in moments of excitement). But, I think maybe the most notable thing about our whole stay was the fact that we slept in a closet. Literally. It was hilarious. The house where we stayed doubles as the office of an internet start up company, and off of the board meeting room there was a closet exactly the size of a full size mattress, containing the same, and we stayed inside it. It was quite the cozy situation.
And, while I’ll never forget the captivating, glowing splendor of the view from the ridge when, on the last day, the fog finally lifted enough to let us see anything but a misty white wall (I never even saw the golden gate bridge!! It’s an excuse to go back.), it’s possible I will also never forget the really, ahem, special 5 hours I spent at gate 37 in LA as my connecting flight’s departure got pushed back and back and back, half an hour at a time, every half hour. The only positive side of that part of this experience insofar as I can determine (besides the fact that it was nothing like being stuck in an airport for weeks because of a volcano) is that after boarding the flight and sitting for another half hour, only then to be asked to deplane because the flight had been delayed still one and a half more hours, I cracked and went magazine shopping. I came back armed with repositories of important knowledge like: how to get movie star hair, the top new eco vacation spots, what he really thinks when he sees me naked, how to organize my closets and reenergize my life with bright room colors, how to get great abs in 10 minutes a day, and how to decorate for a perfect 4th of July party. Also, the most recent issue of Food and Wine. Now, that’s good stuff.
I have a funny tendency with food magazines barely to read them at all. I mostly just look through the pictures and read the recipe names for ideas. In this issue, the glazed baby beet and carrot salad with cumin dressing jumped out at me. I knew I had beets from the farm awaiting me when I got home, and I became bound and determined to honey glaze them. I didn’t have carrots, but I had some little hakurei turnips – the adorable little white, early summer member of the turnip family – whose very mild and fresh flavor I thought would not fight with the beets or honey. So, those joined the beets in the frying pan. But, alack! I had no salad greens, which in my book really is a pitiable state because I might be part rabbit. I settled instead for piling some of the beets and turnips atop some balsamic braised chard topped with blue cheese and pine nuts. Sweet, earthy, tangy, salty. Okay, you’re right. Settled is totally the wrong word. But, the idea of adding the beets to something with a cumin dressing kept haunting me. It haunted me aaaall the way until, well, the very next day, when I decided to make an orzo pasta salad using the remaining beets and turnips. I tossed the orzo with a cumin-yogurt dressing, added the vegetables and topped it with salty crumbles of local feta and more toasted pine nuts. It was wonderful – fresh, cool, and delicious. The musky heat of the cumin lent a softness and warmth to round out the sweetness of the beets and the tang of the cheese and vinegar.
We may not be in the Bay Area, but you know what, I think we may be doing okay in the food department.
Cumin-dressed orzo pasta salad with honeyed beets and turnips (and more!) (serves 4) inspired by a recipe in Food & Wine, July 2010
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 4 medium beets and 2-3 hakurei turnips (or little carrots), peeled and sliced into ½” slices
- one dollop honey (a couple tsp.)
- a Tbs. or so rice vinegar (or another light colored vinegar)
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 bunch chard or other cooking greens, washed, and chopped (stems removed)
- 1 small onion, or a couple of spring onions, sliced
- a splash of balsamic vinegar (about a Tbs.)
- about ½ lb. orzo (little rice shaped pasta)
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 3 Tbs. plain yogurt
- 1 Tbs. rice vinegar
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- salt and pepper
- ½ cup crumbled feta
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- In a large pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the beet and turnip (or carrot) slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, until the beets are softened. Add the honey and Tbs. of vinegar and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for another 3-5 minutes, until the veggies are nicely glazed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
- In another pan heat the first Tbs. olive oil over medium until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the chard or other greens, and cook for another 5 minutes until wilted. Sprinkle with some salt, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and allow to cook for another couple of minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated or absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the orzo and cook until al dente (usually about 9 minutes). Drain, and toss with a wee bit of olive oil to prevent clumping. Cool the noodles.
- Whisk together 1 Tbs. olive oil, 3 Tbs. yogurt, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the orzo with the dressing, then add the beets, turnips and greens, and toss. Chill until ready to serve. Top the pasta salad with feta and toasted pine nuts.