№ 70 - Fusili with Beet Greens and Fennel Sausage
This dish is my go-to for beet greens and in fact it's the recipe I've been asked to share most often when we have friends over for dinner. These days even supermarket beets often come with their greens attached, but I suspect that's largely for aesthetic reasons: most shoppers are after the roots and sooner or later the greens end up in the trash. Beet greens are meatier than most leafy greens and slightly astringent and maybe that stumps people. I'm not wild about sauteed beet greens as a side dish either, but they make a fantastic pasta sauce. Better yet, red beet greens dye the pasta an attractive pink. What's not to love?
I like this dish best with some fennel pork sausage in the sauce, but a vegetarian version with the sausage left out works well too. I use Alice Water's recipe for homemade fennel sausage. It sounds daunting, but it's just seasoned ground pork without any casing and it's prepared in a snap.
In the spring (when beet greens look particularly appetitizing) substitute green garlic for the garlic in the sausage.
For the sausage:
½ lb ground pork (on the fatty side if possible)
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 ½ Tbsp red wine
A few rounds of fresh ground black pepper
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 medium onion
Greens from 1 bunch beets
¾ lbs fusili (white or wholegrain)
4 Tbsp olive oil
Aged pecorino for serving
Heat your smallest saucepan over medium low heat and brieflly toast the fennel seeds for a few moments until they become fragrant but before they brown and become bitter. Pound lightly with a mortar and pestle (or chop coarsely with a knife). Finely chop the garlic and mix all sausage ingredients in a small bowl with your hand.
Wash the beet greens and separate the leaves from the stems by sliding your fingers along the stems towards the thin end. Cut the stems into ¼-inch pieces and set aside. Stack the leaves and slice crosswise, also ¼-inch thick and set aside, separate from the stems. Peel and halve the onion and slice ⅛-inch thick.
Heat a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Coat the pan with 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Shape the meat into a ball and place it in the middle of the pan, gently pushing down to form a semisphere. Sautée without moving the meat in the pan until the underside is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Break up the meat and continue cooking until it's cooked throughout, about 2 more minutes. Set the sausage meat aside in a bowl and cover.
Next prepare the sauce and boil the pasta in parallel: With the "dirty" pan still on medium heat, sautée the onions in 2 Tbsp of olive oil until cooked but before beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, set a large covered pot of generously salted water (taste!) over high heat. Once the onion is cooked in the pan, add the beet stems and some sea salt and sautée until mostly soft, about 9 more minutes. Once the pasta water is boiling, add the fusili, stir and cook uncovered for 8 minutes before starting to taste for doneness. Back in the pan, add the greens, more sea salt and sautée for another 7 minutes. Add back the sausage to reheat, taste for salt and add more as needed. Remove the pan from the heat. Just before the fusili is perfectly al-dente (it will continue to cook out of the water) pour off all the pasta water by opening the lid just a crack to keep the fusili inside. Shake the pasta with a Tbsp of olive oil in the covered pot, add the sauce and toss. Check for salt once more and serve immediately with some grated pecorino to taste.