Vegan Beet Pesto Pasta
This past weekend, I was faced with a triad of very serious problems:
1. My vegan brother in-law was coming over for dinner, and I was feeling badly that I basically serve him some version of the same two or three dishes every time he visits. Take-out was not an option because we had already eaten an embarrassing amount of it that week.
2. My kids have been more picky than usual lately when it comes to colorful vegetables. The more effort I put into addressing this issue, the more likely they are to turn up their noses.
3. Our wonderful grocery delivery service (Mama Earth Organics, out of Toronto) keeps sending us beets. So many beets. I am constantly promising myself/my husband that I am going to pickle the backlog of beets, but I never do. Sigh. They have become something of a mental burden.
Enter this pasta.
I did not invent this dish. I wish I had. I have come across several versions of it in the past year, in various corners of the food world. I first became intrigued listening to blogger Elettra Wiedemann of The Impatient Foodie gush about it on Radio Cherry Bomb. Her version has you peel, grate, and saute the beets in olive oil before blending them with ricotta, basil, Parmesan, and lemon to form the sauce. This sounded delicious to me, but I have an intense hatred of peeling raw beets, and the prospect of having to then stand at the counter and grate them was daunting enough that I put off trying this dish for months. But, staring into my fridge at the sad mountain of neglected beets, I suddenly remembered coming across a vegan version of this pasta on The Kitchn.
So I made it. And it was everything I had hoped and more.
I roasted the beets in the oven in their skins, which takes a bit of time but it basically effortless. Once cooked, the skins just rub right off, and cutting up the tender flesh is easy. I also toasted the almonds before I blended them, because I believe that nuts should always be toasted. Always.
I blended the sauce using the refurbished Vitamix that we recently invested in, and the result was a puree that was totally smooth, almost whipped in texture. The colour was a deep, shocking magenta, and when mixed with the pasta it stained the noodles hot pink all the way through. So cool. The flavour was a complex mix of the earthy sweetness of the beets, brightness from the vinegar, and the nutty, garlicy hit of a more traditional pesto. Yum. I topped the finished pasta with sliced green onions and more toasted almonds. I think next time I would go with chives and perhaps some torn up basil, in the spirit of Wieldemann's version.
This dish easily solved problems one and three. After seeing the sauce, I was also feeling really confident that my kids would jump right on board. I mean, hot pink pasta? How is that not irresistible to a 5 year old? Zoe also loves pickled beets, and this pasta contains the same sweet-and-sour, almost fruity flavour you get from them. I suppose I was perhaps a bit too smug about my victory, and we all know what happens in parenting when we allow ourselves to become smug. Zoe gamely put a finger-full of the sauce in her mouth, made a face like I had just feed her compost, and proclaimed "It is horrible, I hate it, get it out of my mouth." She went and fetched a cloth to wipe off her tongue.
So. . . Yeah. The girls ate plain buttered noodles with raw veggies on the side. Again. I didn't even care, because it meant that I didn't have to share my pink noodles with them!
Beet Pesto Pasta
Adapted from Heather Christo's recipe from Pure Delicious, as it appears on the blog The Kitchn
- 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1 cup raw sliced almonds, toasted
- 2 large or 4 small purple beets, cooked, peeled, and roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup good quality olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- Minced fresh chives or scallions, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Wrap beets tightly in a foil package with a couple tablespoons of water to create some steam. Roast them in until they are very soft when pierced, 1-2 hours depending on their size. When they are cool enough to handle, cut off the ends of each beet and peel. Roughly chop into large cubes.
Toast almonds in a dry skillet until golden and fragrant, stirring often to prevent burning. Remove to a bowl.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the meantime, drop the garlic and 1/2 cup of the almonds into a food processor or blender and blitz until finely chopped and nubbly. Add the beats, vinegar, and olive oil and process until very, very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set sauce aside.
Boil pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid, and return pasta to the pot.
Coat pasta with desired amount of sauce (there will be a fair bit left over) and toss gently with tongues. If it seems a bit too goopy, add a small splash of the starchy pasta water.
Garnish each serving of noodles with the remainder of the toasted almonds, scallions or chives, and lots of coarse salt and pepper. If you don't need the dish to be totally vegan, a generous handful of snowy of Parmesan or Pecorino really ups the ante.
Serve hot. Devour. Use remaining sauce to make another batch for lunch the next day.
- Heather Christo's Version, which appears on the Kitchn and in her book Pure Delicious
- Elettra Wiedemann's version, which appears on her blog, in The Impatient Foodie Cookbook, and also in The Cherrybomb Cookbook.