Saturday, July 28, 2012
New Jersey corn is legendary—whether yellow, white, or bi-color, it’s always really delicious. And, let’s face it, corn grown in Pennsylvania and Delaware is pretty darn good, too. Last weekend I picked up a few ears from one of the stands at the Lansdowne Farmers Market because I was dying for some good corn chowder. Even with the weather we’ve been having lately, it’s never too hot for a decent bowl of chowder. Admittedly, I’m pretty picky when it comes to chowder, though. Too creamy, and I feel smothered and heavy. Not creamy enough, and I’m disappointed.
Behold the perfect chowder:
All you need is about four cups of corn kernels (figure on five or six ears of corn), some bacon (the smoked bacon you can nab from the Fair Food Farmstand is phenomenal here), a couple of jalapeno peppers, a yellow onion, and some heavy cream from your favorite local producer, and a few other ingredients.
4 cups, corn kernels
3 slices, bacon (smoked if you can get it)
1.5 Tbsp., butter
3 jalapeno peppers
32 oz., chicken stock (homemade is preferred, but canned is fine)
1.5 cups, heavy cream
1 tsp. sea salt
4 Tbsp., corn meal
1/3 cup, water
Chop up the bacon into something between a dice and a chop and toss into a soup pot over medium heat. Cook the bacon for maybe three minutes and add the onion (diced). Saute in the bacon and bacon fat (my favorite phrase) for four minutes. Throw in the butter, corn kernels, and diced jalapeno, give the whole mess a stir, and cook for two minutes. Add the stock and cream, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Combine water and cornmeal, stir until the dry bits break up, and pour into chowder. Covered, let it cook down for about 20 minutes or so, until the texture is to your liking.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Garlicky Greens with Savory Herb Pancakes
Friday, June 29, 2012
With the arrival of summer, my fledgling gardens are beginning to flourish. In an attempt to keep up with my herbs (especially the basil and oregano), not to mention the overflowing containers of chard, I mixed up these gluten-free, vegan chickpea pancakes to serve with lightly sauteed greens. If I would have made the batter a little thinner, I think I could have called them crepes, but my first attempt with chickpea flour (also known as besan or gram flour) was more like a nutty-tasting pancake.
For the greens:
Simply saute a few minced gloves of garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add the greens and cook until bright and wilted. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
For the pancakes:
Chop up a handful or two of fresh herbs (I used a mini food processor for this step). Combine 1 cup of chickpea flour with water until the mixture has the consistency of pancake batter. Add the herbs, salt and pepper (optional), and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Prepare however you like to make pancakes—I made them one at a time in a skillet, flipping when bubbles began to form in the middle. One cup of flour yielded three large pancakes. These are more dense than traditional pancakes, so I recommend spreading the batter thin. If you don’t have chickpea flour, I think sourdough pancakes would work well with the savory nature of this recipe as well.
Recipe and Review: Gone Native Whole Tomatoes and Pasta Sauce
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Farm to Philly was recently approached by the owners of Gone Native Foods to review some of their products, and it happily fell to me to get the box of whole tomatoes and pasta sauce delivered to my doorstep.
Gone Native’s products are organic, preservative-free, minimally processed, and best of all, made from Lancaster County tomatoes. Since I’m never going to be industrious enough to put up my own tomatoes, I do really like the idea of someone else preserving locally-grown tomato products for use year-round. So what are they like?
I have to note up front that I’m not the ideal consumer for the Organic Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce, because I basically never buy jarred sauce. My mom made her own sauce once a week, and it was the first thing I learned how to cook completely on my own, probably somewhere around 13. If I were the type to buy pre-made pasta sauce, I think I’d go for this one. It had good fresh tomato flavor, neither too sweet nor too acidic, and none of the tomato-pasty, cooked-to-death quality most sauce in jars has. I was also pleased by the fact that the chunky bits of tomato held up very nicely when tossed with cooked spaghetti, adding some genuine texture and visual appeal.
I’d be a lot more likely to seek out the Organic Farmer’s Coop Whole Tomatoes, whole tomatoes being such a pantry staple that I start getting antsy unless I have at least three 28-ounce cans in reserve. The logical choice for testing the whole tomatoes, suspended in juice in their 32-ounce jar, would have been the family tomato sauce, but having just had the Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce two days before, I needed an alternative that prominently featured tomatoes but was at least one step removed. I finally settled on a dish that I’d already been craving for a couple of weeks anyway: sopa de fideos, or sopa seca.
This not-quite-soup of toasted, broken thin pasta in a chile-infused broth was a major favorite of mine during my adolescent sojourn in Mexico, and makes either a great first course or a satisfying whole meal in itself. It’s vegan when garnished, as here, with a few slices of cool avocado for richness and a quick relish of local new red onion tossed with lime juice, a splash of olive oil, and cilantro from my herb garden. You could instead add a generous sprinkling of queso fresco or a spoonful of sour cream, and if you’re not vegetarian you could also throw in some cooked chicken or turkey.
I’m pleased to report that the whole tomatoes did very well in this recipe. Like those in the sauce, the tomatoes had a clean balance of sweetness and acidity, and no unpleasant graininess or mushiness. I was a little surprised that they’re not peeled, but the peels crushed right along with their attached flesh, and there certainly weren’t any throat-scratching pieces left by the time the sopa was fully cooked, so it wasn’t a problem here. I could imagine situations in which you’d want the peels completely out, though, and while Gone Native suggests on their site that you can easily pull the peels off, I’m not sure that works in practice. I found that the tomatoes started breaking up immediately into largish chunks as I pulled them out of their jar, which would make it that much more tedious to try separating out the peels. Perhaps they’ll offer peeled tomatoes in the future, for recipes requiring a smoother end result.
If you’d like to try Gone Native’s products, check out their vendor list here.
Sopa de Fideos
Serves 4-6 as a main course, 8 as a starter
1 small red onion, preferably young, halved and sliced paper-thin
Juice of one large lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large handful cilantro, minced
2 ripe avocados
1 each dried ancho and guajillo chiles, or 2 of either one
2 cups boiling water
¼ cup olive oil
8 ounces thin spaghetti or capellini, broken into 2-inch lengths
2 small or 1 medium white onion, minced
32 ounces whole tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand and juice reserved
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
Split open the chiles with kitchen shears, taking out their seeds and cores. Toast them in a dry pan over medium heat until they’re pliable and starting to brown a bit, pressing down with tongs as necessary to get them to stay flat. Put the toasted chiles in a heatproof container and cover with the boiling water, setting them aside to sit for 10-15 minutes.
Mix all the garnish ingredients except the avocado in a small bowl and refrigerate while the sopa cooks.
Heat the ¼ cup of oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the broken noodles and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re dark golden brown; don’t worry if some of it gets quite close to scorching, since it will add smoky flavor. Lift the toasted noodles out of the pot with a slotted spoon, leaving most of the oil behind.
Add the onions to the oil and cook until softened. Discard the chiles and add the soaking liquid to the pot with the tomatoes, vegetable stock, oregano, and several good pinches of salt. Bring to a strong simmer, cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary for the broth to be well-seasoned, then add in the pasta. Cook, uncovered, until the pasta is just tender but not mushy.
Ladle the sopa into wide shallow bowls. Peel and slice the avocado, placing several slices on top of the noodles with a good spoonful of the onion relish. Pass around additional wedges of lime in case people want a touch more brightness.
Green Pea Popsicles
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Suggest messing around with standard ice cream flavors, and some people get a trifle irritated. The mere suggestion of making green pea ice cream the other day was met with snorts, disbelief, and derision.
Oh, ye of little faith.
I won’t lie: it requires a few more steps than normal ice cream. You have to strain out the solids before freezing. And me, well, I used the recipe to make popsicles. I had two reasons: 1] my ice cream maker is AWOL (who loses an ice cream maker?) and 2] I just got new popsicle molds.
I substituted half and half for both the milk and cream in the recipe, but that’s the only change I made. The peas and eggs were locally grown, and I could have used locally grown cream and milk if I’d had it on hand.
So I know the question that’s brewing: how does a green pea popsicle taste? Well…picture an orange creamsicle, but less fake-tasting. There’s no mistaking the pea taste, but peas are sweet. They make the perfect addition to dessert. Even my notoriously picky husband liked them.
There are a few variations I will consider when making them again. The addition of mint would be nice, and I think a green pea-lavender popsicle might be interesting.
If you’re thinking about making these, I have one tip: do not omit the sugar. Why? Because the addition of sugar keeps the ice cream/popsicle in good texture. The sugar lowers the freezing point, which stops your frozen treat from turning into a rock hard block of ice. These popsicles have body, but you can still take a bite without breaking off your teeth.
Bringing Home The Brachos
There are many things that make urban farming tough. There’s getting land to grow on (which is still hard, but being made much easier by many activists and officials in this city, most notably Councilwoman Sanchez’s office). Once you get the land there’s the issue of soil contamination, and once you start growing there’s the up hill battle of stopping the feral cats from using the beds as a litter box and teaching the kids of the neighborhood that your tomatoes are for eating and not for throwing at each other. But as the bounty of this season has been one of the best in my recent memory thus far, there’s another problem I’ve been running into.
Although urban farming has been touted as many things, from community revitalization to urban green space development, I would say that the greatest contribution it has made to farming is the advancement of intensive growing systems. Each year we figure out how to grow more food on less land. The result is improved food security for our neighbors and the realization of living off the land for us. But even with the many hungry people in this city and our hippie dreams, it can sometimes be daunting to put all of that produce to use.
I realized this the other day as we harvested the last of our broccoli heads that were about to go to seed due to the heat wave. We were getting ready to rip the plants out, but I wasn’t ready for such a short season, so I looked to another part of the plant. Many people don’t realize this, but broccoli greens are very nutritious and delicious. Imagine a collard green with a broccoli taste. But as good as they taste, they have to be a little dressed up when there are fifty-pounds worth to eat. Forty of those pounds were donated to the local soup kitchen where they were used in a soup. But at my house, I wanted to take it a step further with the other ten.
After having a happy hour margarita and some nachos at Loco Pez in Fishtown (which is another plight of the urban farmer, trying to eat totally from your garden when there is so many great restaurants in walking distance) I had this brilliant idea. I call them Brachos
Please excuse the beer and the other side dishes, but what’s a meal without them. To prepare, I placed the broccoli greens in a flat pan seasoned with a light layer of olive oil. I put the oven at 200 degrees, lightly salted the greens and put them in the oven for 20 minutes, or until crisp. This is the same idea for making kale chips.
Once they were crisped I pulled them out and grated Colby jack cheese over the leaves and cooked for another 3 minutes. I then took them out, layered them on top of each other and Brachos were born. I could have gotten much fancier and added sour cream or jalapenos, but I think I’ll save that for next time.
For now, I’m just happy that the food is being put to the best use possible because that’s such a major issue in our food system. For as many hungry people there are, there is just as much food that goes to waste from our factory farms. That’s why I like to keep it in the neighborhood. So my goal this summer is to get as creative as I can to use as much food as possible. And hopefully, a few good recipes come out of it.
Green Peas Galore
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Saturday mornings mean the Lansdowne Farmers Market. True, there are very few stands there that carry produce from local farmers, but what’s there is really wonderful and fresh. Yesterday I picked up a giant basket of fresh peas for five dollars, which breaks down to about four cups of shelled peas.
If you’ve been reading Farm to Philly long enough, you know I’m not likely to simply steam a vegetable and eat it plain as a side dish. I like to experiment and try new things, so I want to share some of the recipes I found during my search today:
Green Pea Ice Cream
Green Pea, Escarole, and White Bean Minestrone
Poppy Seed-Encrusted Green Pea Mini Burgers
Green Pea Curry
Green Pea Samosas
Spinach and Green Pea Empanadas
Green Pea Soup with Parmesan Marshmallow
Green Pea and Tea Croquettes
Sweet Pea Cupcakes
Sweet Pea Gnocchi
So what will it be for my four cups of peas? I keep vacillating between the ice cream, the empanadas, and the gnocchi. Guess we’ll see which wins!
Saturday, May 12, 2012
In case you missed it, the farmer’s markets have returned and brought asparagus with them. I think my problem with asparagus is a common one: it is such a relief from winter and early spring that I overindulge while relying on the same recipes. This year, like every other year, I am determined to try something new. This year, unlike last year, I have already succeeded. It may only be one new recipe (so far), but that’s one more than last year.
The idea came after watching No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain was in one of those “authentic” trattorias in Rome that no foreign tourist can ever seem to find on their own. The carbonara was served with zucchini flowers, tossed with pasta at the last minute so that the flowers barely wilted. Reasoning that if the flower works well so would the fruit, I diced one small zucchini and added it with the onion. The results were encouraging enough to try other vegetables - like asparagus.
Simply poach the asparagus in salted water for four minutes, slice into small rounds (leaving the tips whole), and add to the saute of of onions and pancetta (or bacon) prior to adding the egg, cheese, and pasta.
When Life Hands You Yogurt: Uses #4-6
Well, I did it. Two people, five pounds of yogurt, and not a single tablespoon wasted. Granted, I did cheat a bit: I liked the yogurt flatbreads and baked eggs with arugula so much that I decided to have it again. However, I did find two other uses for the yogurt. One, it makes an excellent substitute for mayonnaise in potato and tuna salads (as pictured here). Two, in a pasta full of greens, herbs, and lemon. Had there been been yogurt left, this would have been next.
Sicilian Style Pizza
Philly is known for soft pretzels, Peanut Chews, and TastyKakes, but there’s also some decent pizza in the area. I used to love hitting Lorenzo’s on South Street after a show. All the really good pizza I’ve had in town has been of the thin crust variety, but my heart really belongs to sicilian style pizza with a thick crust. Not deep dish—that’s something different—but great, thick, yeasty crust. That kind of pizza is few and far between in Philadelphia, but you can make your own . . . almost entirely from locally grown ingredients.
My favorite crust recipe comes from Serious Eats. They have absolutely perfected a simple sicilian style crust. The secret is kind of weird but perfect for Philly area localvores—potatoes. We’ve always got lots of options for buying potatoes, it seems!
1 medium russet potato, about 7 ounces
15 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1/2 ounce (about 2 teaspoons) kosher salt
1/4 ounce (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) rapid-rise yeast
1/2 ounce (about 3 teaspoons) sugar
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/3 cup warm water
Boil the potato until tender, then put it through a ricer; let cool. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixer with a paddle attachment; blend until the dough comes together, and then add the riced potato. Mix on medium-high speed for about six minutes.
Spread a thin layer of olive oil over a rectangular baking sheet (I use a typical cookie sheet). Dump the dough onto the oiled sheet. The original recipe calls for you to allow the dough to spread by itself over a period of two hours. I’m a little on the anxiety-ridden side, so I like to press the dough into the pan with my hands and then let it rise for a few hours.
From there you can use local tomato sauce or pesto as well as local cheese for toppings (Cherry Grove Farm does a decent locally made mozzarella, or you could go with some of the great locally made cheddar or goat cheese). And, of course, there are all sorts of locally grown vegetables in season right now: spring garlic, sorrel, asparagus, mustard greens, spinach, and herbs.
How do you finish the pizza after it’s topped? Bake at 500 degrees for thirteen or fourteen minutes. It should be noted that this dough would also make amazing breadsticks. Depending on how long you let it rise, my dough has turned out anywhere from an inch to two inches thick.
Dessert, with a Side of Drinks
Friday, April 27, 2012
While I am not a fan of normal cheesecake, I’ve always loved the Italian variety made with milky ricotta instead of cream cheese. This ricotta cheesecake gets an extra splash from the addition of rhubarb, which starts to pop up right about now. I actually used rhubarb from last year’s crop this time, since I like to freeze bags of it for off-season use, but you should be able to find this year’s rhubarb in your local market soon if it isn’t there already.
As a bonus, the poaching liquid for the rhubarb can, after the fruit is added to the cake, be simmered until reduced by about half, leaving you with a beautifully pink, slightly tart syrup, which can be added to iced tea, lemonade, or fizzy water, or used as the basis for a fancy springtime cocktail.
Rhubarb Ricotta Cheesecake (with a rhubarb syrup bonus)
(Adapted from Nick Malgieri, How to Bake)
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut in ½ inch cubes
3 large eggs
For rhubarb layer:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
Half a vanilla bean, split
1 ½ lbs rhubarb, leaves trimmed away and sliced into 1-inch pieces
For cheesecake layer:
1 15-ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese
⅓ cup granulated sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
Combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a food processor and pulse briefly to mix. Add the butter and pulse again until powdery, then add eggs and pulse until the dough begins to come together. Pat into rectangular block, wrap tightly in plastic or in a quart-sized zip-top bag, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, bring the sugar, vanilla and water for the rhubarb to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the rhubarb and immediately turn off the heat. Let the rhubarb cool to room temperature and drain well, setting it aside while rolling out the dough and preparing the ricotta filling. Return the poaching syrup to the pan and simmer briskly until reduced by half, decant into a glass jar, and refrigerate for use in drinks later.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a quarter sheet pan or 9-inch tart pan with parchment paper, leaving enough to overhang the sides all around.
Slice off one third of the pastry for the top lattice, and roll out the remaining two-thirds on a floured sheet of parchment paper into a rectangular piece large enough to overhang the edges of the pan by about an inch and a half. Tuck the pastry into the prepared pan. Roll out the remaining third of dough into a rectangle just larger than the pan, and use a pastry or pizza roller to slice into strips one inch wide.
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the ricotta on the lowest speed just until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar, mixing again on low for 30 seconds, then repeat with lemon zest and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down between additions and mixing only until each egg is incorporated.
Lay the poached rhubarb in an even layer on the bottom of the pastry-lined pan. Pour the ricotta filling gently over, spreading it all the way out to the edges. Lay the strips of pastry lightly over the top of the filling, fold the overhanging edges of the pastry over to seal in the ends of the strips, and crimp all around.
Bake 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the filling has set. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack before using the parchment to lift the cheesecake out of the pan, and slice into 8-12 squares. If not serving within a few hours of baking, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Spring Sesame Collard Greens
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Last October, one of my housemates came home with a few little collard seedlings and I planted them in our backyard. They kept on growing all winter, and for the last month or so I’ve been harvesting the still-tender leaves for raw collard green salads. This past weekend was the last hurrah though, since the plants started flowering and my farmer friends at Mill Creek Farm encouraged me to harvest what was left and then take them out. Fine with me, since I can certainly use that space for my other plants!
I was surprised by how delicious this simple dish turned out.
1 bunch collard leaves
2 T vegetable broth or water
3-4 T sesame seeds (toasted, optional)
1 T sesame oil
spices to taste (I used McCormick Far East Sesame Ginger Blend, a mix of garlic, sesame, ginger and red pepper, orange peel, coconut, onion, and soy sauce)
Heat the broth in a wide skillet and lightly saute the greens until bright and slightly wilted. Remove from heat and toss with sesame seeds, sesame oil, and seasoning. That’s all!
When Life Hands You Yogurt: Use #3
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I’ve written about Jamie Oliver’s brilliant use of yogurt as a substitution for bechamel before. That time, I was heeding his recipe, using it in manicotti. This time, I used it as a layer in a mushroom lasagna.
When Life Hands You Yogurt - Lots and Lots of Yogurt
Saturday, April 14, 2012
As I’ve said before, Winter Harvest is a wonderful program. Every month, I am astounded by the variety and availability of fresh produce, meat, poultry, and prepared foods – all of them locally grown or made.
Nonetheless, I am prone to error when ordering for the month. For example, several years ago, I ordered 22 half-gallons of milk rather than 2. The good people of Farm to City caught that mistake. This time, however, I had to live it: last week, I brought home a five-pound container of Pequea Valley plain yogurt.
For some of you, perhaps, this is not much of a purchase. For a household of two, I can assure you that it is. However, with flexibility that CSAs require, in which you cook with what’s available, we decided to use up all five pounds of yogurt in as many different ways as we could.
Uses 1-2: Yogurt Flatbread and Baked Eggs with Arugulga and Yogurt
Eager to use our newest cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, we first opened the container for breakfast last weekend. The flatbreads called for greek yogurt, a much thicker consistency than the five pounds in front of me. Following Mark Bittman’s advice, I strained two cups of yogurt through a flour sack dishcloth and a mesh strainer. Within a few hours, I had the requisite ¾ cup of greek yogurt.
The yogurt and whole-wheat flatbreads were cooked on a griddle. Meanwhile, we baked Rineer Farm eggs and Silver Mine Farm Sylvetta Arugula, and topped them with yogurt spiced with paprika (see here).
We made substantial progress with these, and the yogurt did not feel repetitious coming, as it did, in two very different forms. However, there was plenty more yogurt to go.
Dinner Pilfered From Friends
Monday, April 09, 2012
Recently, my wife was explaining to a friend how she had learned to replant Jerusalem artichokes to propagate more. Our friend warned us to be sure we planted them in a pot, as they tend to spread quickly and become very difficult to extirpate. “In fact,” she continued, “I’ve probably still got some in my (community garden) plot right now. You’re welcome to dig them out for yourself.” And so we did.
This soup was pilfered from her plot and combined with some chicken stock of ours. We’ve had some excellent creamed Jerusalem artichoke soup – most memorably at the Farm and Fisherman. But here I wasn’t looking to create anything complicated; instead, I wanted to have an effortless soup that also focused on the taste of the artichokes. There are innumerable ways to elaborate on this, so think of it only as a starting point.
Creamed Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
4 cups chicken stock
1 ½ pounds Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
Melt the butter the butter in a saucepan large enough to hold the remaining ingredients. Add the garlic and sauté until golden. Add the artichokes, stock, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer until the artichokes are cooked through. Blend until smooth in a blender or with an immersion blender.
Top with some caramelized onions, truffle oil, horseradish, or whatever else you can think of.
My Favorite Root Vegetable
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
I’ve never been able to understand why so many people dislike beets, since ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved their sweetness and their fun ability to turn everything they touch violently pink. Another fantastic thing about beets is that they’re still in markets this time of year, like many other root vegetables, and if you can find them with the tops still attached, you also get a nice bunch of tender, mild-flavored greens for use in another meal.
Roasting is by far my favorite way to cook beets, since it concentrates their flavor and prevents them from going watery, as they would be if boiled. Here, they’re combined with French lentils and herbs as a topping for whole wheat pasta, mixed with locally-produced fresh goat ricotta. You could use a creamy blue instead of the ricotta, since both beets and lentils can easily stand up to a more aggressive cheese. This would also make a nice vegan dish without the cheese, although in that case it would be a good idea to add back some of the pasta cooking water along with the olive oil and herbs, for extra moisture.
Whole Wheat Penne with Goat Ricotta, French Lentils and Roasted Beets
2 small bunches of beets
1/2 cup French lentils
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons garlic-flavored olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
8 ounces whole wheat penne
4 ounces fresh ricotta, preferably goat
2-3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the tops off the beets, wash any dirt off, and wrap each one tightly in foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 F until easily pierced with a sharp knife. Let the beets cool enough to handle, then peel and cut into half-inch dice.
Boil the lentils until tender, then drain and mix with the roasted beets. Dress with the garlic olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Taste and add more oil or vinegar if needed.
Boil the penne in ample salted water according to package instructions, being careful not to overcook. Drain and toss with the ricotta, oregano leaves, salt and pepepr, and enough olive oil to moisten everything.
Plate the penne, and mound the lentils and beet salad on top. Allow diners to mix the pasta themselves, as the bees will turn the pasta magenta if mixed ahead of time.