I didn’t intentionally set out to make pink pasta; it just happened as a result of my love affair with seasonal produce like swiss chard and beets, both of which were plentiful at the farmers market last weekend where I organized a Culinary Tour of the Green City Market here in Chicago.
And then it occured to me that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We are all exposed to the pink ribbons that indicate a fight against this disease, so I found it fitting that my pasta turned out pink as a result of the beet leaf juices that smother the pasta once it’s cooked and added in. One person on our Facebook page even made reference to the fact that her girls would love it because it was girly.
I started out by picking fresh beets and beautiful swiss chard from Heritage Prairie Farm at the Green City Market. After chatting up the daughter of the owners about special events at the farm (weddings and parties), I also came to learn that these vegetables were grown with the utmost care in a pesticide-free environment, and sold at a very decent price. These are very important details that are almost impoosible to find out when buying produce from a grocery store.
fresh organic beets and colorful Swiss chard stems from Heritage Farm
I couldn’t wait to get these things home and begin cooking. I developed the recipe in my head, though it probably isn’t anything new to Italians who cook with vegetable greens all the time.
In this recipe, I use all of the leaves and stems of the swiss chard and only the stems and leaves of the beets, but not the actual beets so(those I later pickled).
I begin by thoroughly washing the produce by spraying with white vinegar, letting them sit for a few minutes, then rinsing in cool water.
Beet leaves, roughly chopped
I then separate the stems from the leaves because they will be cooked separately due to different cooking times. I put the leaves through a salad spinner or rub dry with a cotton towel. I proceed to chop the leaves and then chop the stems rather thin, keeping them separate.
Swiss Chard leaves, also roughly chopped
What’s ironic is that the stems of swiss chard and beets are so similar in texture, though red stems of swiss chard don’t necessarily bleed onto other foods, or your hands.
Aren’t these colors beautiful? I loved watching them cook, but was sad to see the color fade from bright.
After the stems are softened by lightly sauteing in olive oil, I add the chopped, dried leaves. I also had some roasted onions and roasted garlic (made similarly to the roasted garlic) so I added thm at this point. If you don’t have softened onions, I suggested chopping them finely and sauteing at the same time as the stems of the beets and swiss chard since they are similar in texture.
roasted onions and swiss chard
I let everything cook together, uncovered, for a few minutes. At this point you can add salt, freshly ground black pepper or other herbs The onions now look pink, as they’ve taken on the color of the beets stems.and spices. You can even add those earlier, such as when the stems are being sauteed.
The onions now look pink, as they’ve taken on the color of the beets stems.
I reduce the heat and allow the steam to continue to cook the vegetables slowly as I move on to prepare the pasta.
I start boiling the pasta water as soon as I’ve begun the recipe, but you can do it at this point, too. These vegetables will be just fine cooking a little longer. I like cooking the Italian way, which means vegetables like greens are given a long time to slow cook; they aren’t generally eaten on the crisp side, especially when served with pasta. Crispier greens are generally the technique of the French, which I also like, but often change preferences based on the dish I’m cooking.
Finished pasta dish without the added cream or cheese
If the pasta is done before the vegetables, simply drain it and drizzle olive oil on it to prevent sticking. Once everything is done, mix it all together in a large pan or serving dish. You can serve as-is or add heavy cream, creme fraiche, clotted cream and Parmesan cheese. I like it either way, but honestly, I love this recipe with cream added and mixed in and then grated Parmesan cheese on top. I think you’ll like it, too, either way.
Pink Penne Pasta with Swiss Chard and Beet Leaves
1 pound organic penne pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black
8 cloves roasted garlic (4 cloves
fresh), roughly chopped
1 roasted yellow onion (1/2 raw
onion), thinly sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch beet leaves and stems
1 cup heavy cream, clotted cream
or crème fraiche (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Prepare ingredients ahead of time by washing and chopping the leaves and stems of the vegetables. Leaves of the Swiss chard and beets should be roughly chopped while the stems should be cut about 1/4 inch thick or less. Be sure they are dried well before cooking.
If roasting garlic and onion, be sure those are done ahead of time. If not, roughly chop each.
Meanwhile, in a separate pot, heat enough water to cook the pasta.
In a large and deep sauté pan, heat the olive oil gently.
Add the stems of the Swiss chard and beets. If using raw onion and garlic, add those, too. Watch the garlic carefully to ensure that it does not burn. You can prevent this by keeping the heat on the lower side while also moving the ingredients around with a spoon, as opposed to letting it cook on its own.
Once the stems have softened, add the chopped leaves. Move everything around with a spoon or tongs. Once the leaves have wilted a little, add the roasted onion and garlic if using those. Add the salt and pepper, too. Add about 1/4 cup water and cover the pan with a lid. Continue to cook for about 20 minutes, covered.
Once the pasta is done, drain it and set aside. Add a little olive oil to prevent sticking.
In the sauté pan, mix the cooked chard and beets with the cooked pasta. If adding cream, add it now, over very low heat and mix together well.
Place the finished pasta in serving bowls or a family-style platter. Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Bismillah and Buon Appetito!