I literally just had one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Or made. It had 4 ingredients. It was made in a trailer. It took 15 minutes. It was heaven. And I am still in awe.
Since I had just arrived to Paonia on Tuesday, I owed my friend Mark a visit who lives in Hotchkiss, the town next door. I have known Mark since high school since he was a farmer at Gaining Ground; a non-profit farm and food provider in Concord, MA at which I used to be a volunteer. He has since moved to Hotchkiss and is living with his family on ‘Thistle Whistle Farm’ where he grows everything you can imagine (or not even imagine) and sells it to his fellow community members and local restaurants. During my visit to him at a local market, I decided I could not pass up his beets that were handsomely clustered in a shallow tub of crisp cold water. I took them home excited to use them at some point this week.
Beets are what I like to call ‘Two-for’ Bonus Vegetables. Just like a winter squash with its seeds inside, you have two separate things to cook and look forward to enjoying with a beet; the leaves and the actual beet root. Both of these things completely different and extremely delicious, all the while conveniently packaged in one whole vegetable. It doesn’t get better!
I thought I would leave the beet roots to enjoy for another day (ya know, to spread out the deliciousness), so I focused on the leaves and stems for dinner. A splash of extra virgin olive oil went into my pan set over the humbly small gas burner, and it heated as I removed the leaves from the stems, washed them, and chopped the remaining stems into about a 1/2” dice. They went in the hot pan first, as they need a bit longer to cook down in comparison to their more delicate leaves. And just before I added the leaves, I added a minced garlic clove to the stems and stirred just until I could smell the garlic react to the heat. I tasted a stem piece that was untouched to garlic. I stopped chewing as my tongue finally got its first taste. Uh…what? Why is that beet stem so freaking delicious? I was a bit confused. It was already complex, seasoned, savory. It was unlike anything beet related thing I had ever eaten before. I chose to ignore this early epiphany, and added the leaves to wilt and cook down along with the stems and garlic.
Since we have more than 20 guinea hens romping around the orchard these days, we also have more than 150 guinea eggs to eat at our disposal. With that in mind, I decided to do one of my favorite things to make when I’m cooking down greens with any other vegetables. I like to make little indents in the greens right before they’re done cooking and I place one egg in each divot. Since there is a lot of steam being produced in the pan from the evaporating water on the washed greens, as well as what’s being released by the vegetable itself, I put a cover on the pan and let the eggs cook via the hot steam for maybe 3 minutes (longer if a bigger egg or cooler pan). And voila, you have perfectly cooked, runny yolk, eggs happily nestled in your cooked veggies ready to be eaten as an undoubtedly whole and nutritious meal.
Right before I got my plate, I reached for the salt and pepper to season the dish before I took my portion. For some reason though, I tasted it before seasoning just to see what we were dealing with here. I dropped the salt granules in my fingertips back into the salt bowl. It needed nothing. Absolutely nothing. And this wasn’t a “oh I wont put salt I because I want to be ‘good’ about watching my ‘sodium’” (whatever that means when people say it) No. No no. I honestly think a bit of salt is necessary in most dishes, especially vegetable based ones, to give some sort of umph to the flavors involved. Not here. In this case, I actually believed that even the slightest pinch of any additional seasoning would completely ruin the incredible flavor that was going on in my mouth. I quickly scooped some out into my bowl and sat down to savor every bite.
The beet component alone, as Ive already told you, was out of this world. With every bite I seriously started questioning myself about if I had added something to it when it was cooking. Did I black out as it was sautéing and forgot that I added chicken stock or salt or pepper or sugar or something? But the answer was No! The earthy, sweet, savory, hearty, robust flavors were 100% part of the pure beet itself. The garlic added a mild spice, and the egg on top…perfection. My fork broke the runny yolk, and the egg’s impressive, fresh and healthy orange center smothered the greens below, creating a convenient sauce to bring each of the 4 elements of the dish together. My plan was to have leftovers.
What a joke…the pan was clean in no time.
I had experienced a fresh food-gasm (I’m sorry…it’s the only way to justly describe it). Mark’s attentive care as a grower, along with the incredibly healthy, nutrient rich soil made those greens’ flavors miles away from anything I had ever eaten before. Not to mention that they left that soil not long before it entered my pan. And the eggs? They were laid this morning. From guinea hens that run around all day, eating the grasshoppers they love to eat that therefore keeps the orchard clean of the noisy pests.
Farm fresh food. There’s literally nothing like it.