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The Hand Off: Quinoa Spaghetti with Beets, Asparagus and Chèvre

2011 June 2
By Kara Rota

Inspired by the pairing of beets and goat cheese in Brianna’s Sun Beet Salad, I set out to use the colorful characteristics of beets to make a meal that echoed the hues of May flowers. I also saw a perfect opportunity to take advantage of recent seasonal arrivals: beet greens and asparagus. Taking a tip from the fair trade quinoa vodka in Brianna’s Blue Quintini, I decided to make a spring pasta and vegetable dish with a box of corn flour and quinoa spaghetti I had in the cupboard. Similar in texture to white-flour spaghetti, this gluten-free pasta is well suited for warm-weather meals with light sauces. I’ve had a few successful experiments with noodles made from the grain-like “pseudocereal” and was looking forward to using it again.

 

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However, after reading an article in the New York Times in March that brought attention to issues stemming from the rising global demand for quinoa, I wanted to do more research. I wrote a letter to the president of the company that owns the Ancient Harvest quinoa brand, asking how they are dealing with the fact that increased quinoa consumption in the US has made an important staple food less accessible to local populations in South America. While the explosion in quinoa exports to America and Europe has created financial opportunity for farm families who subsist by selling their quinoa crops, it has also raised local prices to the point where the general population that relies on quinoa as part of their traditional diet can no longer afford to eat it themselves.  I received a prompt response thanking me for my concern and informing me that The Quinoa Corporation funds a nonprofit NGO that is working to develop and expand quinoa growing into new areas in the Altiplano region, which “will offer a multitude of additional rural communities a new source of employment and income, and hopefully insure their families of improved financial security for the future.”

 

I didn’t find the response wholly satisfactory. I knew that buying imported quinoa was the opposite of eating locally and sustainably, but I’m also a firm believer in the fact that there’s nothing more local than what’s already in your pantry, and this dish seemed like an ideal opportunity for the gluten-free spaghetti to shine. Eating locally sometimes is made more feasible by compromise, and I was glad to have the pasta on hand to supplement my local vegetables and goat cheese.

 

I tossed the cooked spaghetti with roasted asparagus and beets and sautéed beet greens, then sprinkled crumbles of goat cheese on top. The result was a flavorful and nutritious springtime pasta lunch full of seasonal produce and tart, creamy chèvre – bright and pink as the pansies and hydrangeas outside.

Quinoa Spaghetti with Beets, Asparagus and Chèvre

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • One 8 oz box quinoa spaghetti (substitute pasta of your choice)
  • 1 bunch beets (with beet greens!)
  • 1 lb fresh asparagus
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 4 oz chèvre
  • salt, pepper & dried oregano to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash the beets well and detach the beet greens. Wrap the whole unpeeled beets in two layers of tinfoil and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until a knife slides easily through the thickest beet center. Let the beets cool, then peel them and cut them into one-inch cubes.
  3. Wash the asparagus and break off the ends (where they naturally break is right!). Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a baking pan for about 25 minutes. Cut into one-inch pieces.
  4. Meanwhile, mince the garlic cloves and chop the washed beet greens into two-inch pieces. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet or wok and add garlic. After about a minute, add the beet greens and sauté until wilted.
  5. Boil a large pot of water and add the quinoa spaghetti. Cook for 6-9 minutes, checking often – be sure not to overcook, as the pasta will get mushy.
  6. Add vegetables and greens to spaghetti and toss to mix, adding a little extra olive oil if necessary. Sprinkle with crumbled chèvre and add salt and pepper to taste. Eat at room temperature or chilled.

Kara Rota is the editor of Cookstr and blogs her gustatory adventures here. Her fingernails are still red from cooking the beets in this recipe.

  • Stephanie

    The colors are indeed stunning in your dish! I never liked beets as a child, and I haven’t gotten around to trying them again as an adult (I always thought they tasted too much like dirt). I’ve never tried them baked either. With the two beautiful recipes using beets, maybe it is time I give them a try once more. One never knows! ;)

    • Anonymous

      Hey Stephanie – if you are easing into beets and are sensitive to the earthy flavor you might start out with the variety known as Chioggia beets.  They are the ones with the candy striped interior – they contain less of the compound that makes beets ‘taste like dirt’. I’m not sure but golden beets may also be less earthy.  Good luck!

      • Stephanie

        Thanks so much for the tips, Kara and the Relay. ;) My palette has expanded so much since I was young, that beets might very well fit in nicely. I will keep my eye out for the other varieties your suggested as well.
         

    • Anonymous

      Hey Stephanie – if you are easing into beets and are sensitive to the earthy flavor you might start out with the variety known as Chioggia beets.  They are the ones with the candy striped interior – they contain less of the compound that makes beets ‘taste like dirt’. I’m not sure but golden beets may also be less earthy.  Good luck!

    • Anonymous

      Hey Stephanie – if you are easing into beets and are sensitive to the earthy flavor you might start out with the variety known as Chioggia beets.  They are the ones with the candy striped interior – they contain less of the compound that makes beets ‘taste like dirt’. I’m not sure but golden beets may also be less earthy.  Good luck!

    • Kara

      Also, make sure to remove the skin to minimize the ‘earthy’ taste – roasting them and then slipping them out of their skins makes them especially sweet.

  • http://www.orgasmicchef.com Maureen

    I can’t go past a recipe with beets!  My insides must be dark red.  :)

    No print button?  The easyrecipe plugin for wordpress has a print button as well as microformatting for better Google results.  It’s what I use.

    • sarahamaine

      Hey Maureen, glad you like the recipe – we love beets too – we’ve even used them in cocktails!

      As for printing – the first button right under where it says “Share and Enjoy!” provides a super printer friendly format. Thanks for the easyrecipe tip, we’ll check it out. Enjoy your beets!

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