Growing beets has always been difficult for me in my garden. Before I put up a Berlin Wall-like fence, the tender greens were chewed to the ground by rabbits as soon as they emerged. But even now, and despite painstaking soil sifting and amendment with sand, most of the beets in the rocky Pennsylvania soil are small, woodsy and gnarly. Their greens, however, is a totally different story! It is as if the plants put all their energy into the lush, shiny, large foliage. So every year I end up with several bags of frozen beet greens.
Before I became a gardener, I did not even know that beet greens are edible. That’s no surprise, because unless you buy the beets super-fresh from a farmers market, they reach the store leafless. And that’s a shame, because the leaves have more nutritional value than beet roots.
I have tried different recipes with beet greens but I always return to the same two recipes: Trouchia, a French vegetable omelet, and this risotto. The recipe is adapted from Amanda Hesser’s terrific book The Cook and the Gardener. But since I have such an abundance of beet greens, I maximized their amount and left out the chard used in the original recipe.
Frozen beet greens are easy to break into small bits while still in the bag so no chopping needed.
Risotto with Beet Greens
8-10 ounces cleaned and trimmed beet greens, fresh or frozen
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
4 cups low-fat chicken broth
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground white pepper
1. Chop the beet greens if using fresh, or break frozen leaves into small pieces.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes until soft. Don’t let the garlic brown.
3. Stir und cook until leaves are wilted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. Heat the chicken broth in a saucepan.
5. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium-size pot with a heavy bottom. Add the shallot and cook 2 minutes until translucent.
6. Add the bay leaf and the rice and stir to coat evenly. Cook over medium heat until the rice releases a nutty smell and looks glassy.
7. Add the wine and ¼ cup hot broth. Cook while stirring constantly until all the liquid has been absorbed.
8. Continue adding chicken broth in ½ cup increments and stirring constantly, only adding more broth when the previous addition has been absorbed, until all the broth has been used and the rice is tender but not mushy, about 20 to 25 minutes.
9. Add the beet greens and stir until reheated. Then stir in the Parmesan and butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and let stand for 1 to 2 minutes before serving.
Makes 2 servings as a main course, or 4 servings as side dish