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This meal was based on a soup, more like a stew, that I had last winter. I can’t find the recipe for the stew; I believe it was in a cookbook I checked out from the library. Why I didn’t write it down is beyond me– it was tasty enough to be memorable, and I was craving a bowl this weekend. Here’s what I do know. The recipe I can’t find was itself based on a (different) traditional Polish stew, so it was kind of a modern version of a classic, if you will. The updated stew included some of my favorite comfort food ingredients: pork, greens, smoked paprika, sweet onions. I attempted to do justice to my memory of the recipe by combining the ingredients I remembered into something new but with a similar flavor; I came up with this dish, which I love. Smoky from bacon and paprika, sweet from onions, creamy and tangy from sour cream, bitter (in a good way) from greens– this is my ultimate combination of flavors and textures, even colors. My husband was also a fan, which means that I’ll be making it throughout the winter.

I don’t believe either the original or updated stew recipe included beet greens, but to me they were an obvious match to the other flavors and I was determined to use them in this meal. I grew up eating beet greens, usually steamed and sprinkled with apple cider vinegar, and like their delicate but decidedly bitter flavor more than almost any other green. They are a great source of vitamin A and a decent source of vitamin C, iron and even calcium. It makes me sad to think how many bunches of these greens are composted as waste! I have been told that the greens are even better for you than the beet root, but beyond that, they are a versatile and flavorful addition to so many meals. Anywhere you see spinach or chard, an equivalent amount of beet greens will do. I love buying bunched beets from the market because I feel like I’m getting two vegetables for the price of one.

One ingredient of the soup I didn’t have on hand was potatoes. I felt that they needed to be included, somehow, so I chose to serve the sauce I made with potato gnocchi as a tuber representative. It was a delicious choice, evocative of the pierogies which are so often synonymous with Polish cuisine. If you don’t have gnocchi, you could serve the sauce over boiled or roasted potatoes, even rice or pasta. Vegetarians, leave out the bacon and proceed; the paprika provides enough smoke to make up for it.  You could add a cup or so of diced mushrooms if you want a “meaty” substitute. Lastly, if beets are out of season and you can’t find beet greens, substitute chard or spinach. However you decide to make it, I hope you will be as pleased as I am with this meal based on a meal based on another meal. It’s a delicious bowl to tuck into on a chilly autumn evening. Stay tuned to see how I used the beets themselves.

gnocchi with beet greens & bacon

Gnocchi with Beet Greens & Bacon (serves 4)

  • 12 oz. potato gnocchi, store-bought or homemade, cooked and drained
  • 1 T. grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1 c. diced onions (about 1 medium onion)
  • 4 slices of good-quality applewood smoked bacon, or similar (optional), diced
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine (or water)
  • 2 bunches of beet greens (from about 2 pounds of beets), washed carefully, patted dry, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • generous amount of black pepper, preferably freshly ground
  • salt to taste

In a saucepan of salted boiling water, cook your gnocchi according to package or recipe directions. Drain and set aside. If you begin boiling the water at the same time you start cooking the sauce, they should be done at about the same time.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the oil and slowly cook the onions. You are working to soften them and draw out sweetness, not necessarily to brown. When the onions are soft and translucent, after about 7-10 mins., add the bacon to the pan; raise the heat slightly to a high medium and cook until the bacon is brown and crisp, but not burnt. Depending on the fat content of your bacon, this will take 5-10 mins.

When the bacon is cooked, stir the smoked paprika into the bacon-onion mixture and cook for about 1 minute more. Add the wine (or water) to the pan and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated, then add the beet greens to the pan. Cover, lower the heat back to medium and allow the greens to wilt for about 3-5 mins. Test to make sure the greens are cooked to your liking and then remove the pan from the heat; stir in the sour cream and black pepper. Reheat on a very low temperature, if necessary, to warm the sauce through. Stir and then taste to see if additional salt is needed; sometimes the bacon provides enough. Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan and toss gently to coat with sauce; serve immediately.

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