January 24, 2011

Pink Pesto Pasta with Beets, Asparagus, and Goat Cheese

You should know that I have a minor addiction to beets (or, as the boyfriend and the twin prefer to call them, dirt apples). As in, I can happily sit down to a bowl of completely unseasoned steamed or roasted beets. So, when an ironically bespectacled hipster at the farmer's market told me about a pasta she'd made with beet green pesto and garlic chevre, how could I possibly deprive you all (ahem, me) of this delightfully pink dish?

Beet greens are decidedly under appreciated. Even knowing how easy they are to use, I have a tendency to toss them out. They're a little like kale, but with a nicer flavor. I wouldn't recommend eating them raw, but they can be sauteed or tossed into any soup you'd normally use spinach or cabbage in. But here's what can be the problem: they turn everything they touch deep purple. I made my usual vegetable soup with beet greens instead of spinach once. It was as delicious as ever, but I couldn't convince the boy to eat purple soup!

Flip those suckers around. The other end is due for some damn glory.
Not a problem with this pasta. Instead of deep purple, the pasta is more of a green-flecked fuchsia after being tossed with the pesto. Add in tangy goat cheese and throw in some steamed asparagus and beets (the normal part of the beets, that is), and I am in heaven.

I made a double batch of the pesto to use up all the greens. The other half (more like two-thirds, really) is sitting pretty in my freezer, and I'm looking forward to smearing some on a sandwich in the future. I just used a basic pesto recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Anything Vegetarian (a fantastic book. You'll be seeing more from this in the near future) and subbed out the basil and pine nuts.

If you don't like beets and refuse to buy them, great, more for me feel free to use pretty much any green for the pesto, from the traditional basil to cilantro, spinach, or arugula. That said, Erik (y'know, "dirt apples" Erik) really liked this before I tossed it with the chunks of beets. So, if you can get your hands on beet greens without the beets attached, 1) go for it and 2) tell me how you did it, I bet it'll be a good story.

Pink Pesto Pasta With Beets, Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Adapted from How to Make Everything Vegetarian and some hipster at the market.

The internet, always to be trusted, has informed me that using olive oil in pesto will result in a bitter, generally no bueno flavor. I used canola, but feel free to give it a try with olive or whatever you have on hand.

For the pesto:
2 cups beet greens, roughly chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup canola or other neutral oil
salt and pepper, to taste

To assemble pasta:
small bunch beets
bunch asparagus (how much is really in those grocery store bundles? A pound?)
1/2 pound whole grain spaghetti or fettucini
1/3 cup goat cheese

In a dry skillet, toast walnuts over medium-low heat until lightly toasted and fragrant, about five minutes, shaking pan occasionally for even cooking.

Meanwhile, sautee garlic and greens in olive oil over medium heat just until greens are slightly softened, about two-three minutes is all you need.

Add all pesto ingredients to food processor, and process until you have pesto. (Alternatively, if your food processor is broken, feel free to use your immersion blender, but don't stick your fingers in until the blades have completely stopped moving. Rookie mistake.)

At this point, you can just pop the pesto in the fridge or freezer until ready to use. For pasta:

To steam the beets and asparagus: wash off any big clods of dirt off the beets and cut into halves or quarters. Using steam basket, cook to desired tenderness (I like mine still pretty firm). Meanwhile, cut asparagus into inch-length pieces and add in about the last five minutes of steaming, when beets are almost done. Cook until barely tender. Remove from heat. When beets are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off (may require some rubbing and will certainly cause purple fingers), and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Cook pasta in water or stock (I almost always use stock just for a bit of extra flavor) according to directions. Drain and reserve about a cup of the cooking liquid.

Toss pasta with goat cheese and 1/3 cup pesto. Add reserved pasta water as needed to get the right consistency. I added about 3 tablespoons immediately, and close to another half cup before putting the rest in the fridge. Be aware that it dries out some within the first 20 minutes or so.

Toss with asparagus and beets, and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Some fresh parmesan would be great, but I actually forgot and didn't miss it at all. Enjoy!

Makes 4 servings.

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  1. I would love to feature you as a guest blogger on my blog - you recipes are great! let me know!
    my blog is http://felicekitchen.blogspot.com


  2. This conversation happened:
    "Brad, do you like beets?"
    "Have you ever had them?"
    "Wait, what's a beet and what's a radish?"
    "You've never had them. I'm making this."

  3. Ahahaha. Sounds just like my boy.

  4. Dang it! I just made beets yesterday! I'm going to do your recipe next time they're on sale. I roasted them with the greens, chunks of sweet potato, olive oil, a sprinkling of balsamic, and an assortment of dried spices. The potatoes turn gorgeous colors. Yea rainbow food!!

  5. Ooo that sounds delightful!! And the best thing about vegetable medleys in MY house is that the boys won't go near them, so I don't have to share!