Happy National Pink Food Day! We’ve celebrated previously here, and here, but this new recipe is one I’m particularly excited by. If you’ve been following along, you already know I love beets (see also: beet hummus and smashed chickpea sandwich with beets), but getting the chance to turn them into this magenta sauce was incredibly satisfying. I mean, can you even believe how pink the sauce turned out? And I promise, the color isn’t photoshopped at all – that’s pure beet juice power right there!
I knew I wanted to make something pink again in honor of Valentine’s Day, but this year, I wanted something a little more out of the box, and something a little more savory. This dish checks both of those boxes perfectly. The natural sweetness of beets give this a completely different flavor profile from what you’d be used to seeing in a basil pesto. Some of the same base notes are still there – salty Parmesan cheese, silky olive oil, and a hint of garlic. That flavor gets intensified with lemon juice and beets, so we get a bright citrusy sweet flavor throughout the whole thing. Divine, I tell you. Diiiivine.
Also it’s pink. Should we talk about that again? Probably. OK, so if you’re making this dish because of the color (hi, let’s be friends), I have to tell you that you’re really going to need to roast the beets on your own. It’s not hard – promise – it’s just like roasting a sweet potato, and the color difference is so worth it. I tried making this with the steamed beets from Trader Joe’s that I usually buy (so convenient!) and the color just wasn’t the same. Still delicious, so certainly feel free to use them, but there was a slight change in both color (a deeper red) and taste (more… earthy?) with the pre-prepared beets.
Luckily, roasting beets in the oven is super simple, and while it takes about an hour, almost all of that time is hands-off. Just scrub them and wrap them up in foil, place on a baking sheet (which you can also line with foil if you’re concerned about leaking juices, but I had no problems) and let them hang out for about an hour until they’re tender enough to stick a fork into. That’s it! Once they’re cooled a bit, you’ll need to peel off the skin. It should peel off easily, BUT be warned that beet juice stains very easily, and that includes your skin. Unless your want pink fingertips (that would be very festive indeed!), try using the foil to help you peel of the skin, or a couple paper towels, and just wash your hands right away. Another tip? Use a plastic cutting board. Just trust me on that one. Wood will never look the same after it meets beet juice.
After your beets are roasted, you’re ready to make up the pesto. Only 5 ingredients (lemon zest & juice count as 1, right?) + salt, and you’re ready to go. I used slivered almonds in this recipe – I imagine walnuts would also be tasty if you have them on hand, but have not tried it.
Make sure to reserve a little extra lemon zest for garnish, because you’re fancy like that. I also cut a few chives on top, and would absolutely recommend doing the same. We’re all about the pops of color with this dish.
Once you’ve got the pesto all set, you just have to decide what to put in on. Fusilli was my pasta of choice, but any short noodle would be great (think penne, farfalle, etc.). Also, I tried this with ravioli, and loved that it gave the dish an extra savory depth, so feel free to find a ravioli you love and toss it with this sauce. I mean, does this look date-night ready or what?
I hope you bring a little pink in your life by trying out this pesto – it’s just about guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and that’s before you’ve tried it.
Beet Pesto Pasta
Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (includes roasting time for beets)
Yield: Sauce makes about 1 cup
1 large beet (or 2 smaller beets), roasted (roughly chopped into chunks, this should measure about 1 heaping cup)
2 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons slivered almonds (dry roasted or raw, no salt)
3 Tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemon yielded ~4 T for me. Reserve 1 T to drizzle on leftovers)
2 teaspoons lemon zest (about half a lemon. zest a little extra so you have some for garnish)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound fusilli pasta (or your favorite shape)
1 package of your favorite ravioli (I used a roasted cauliflower & parmesan version from Trader Joe’s)
Additional beet slices, lemon zest, chopped chives, and parmesan, for garnish
If roasting your own beets: Preheat oven to 400°F. Scrub beets well under water. Without drying off, wrap beets loosely in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour (time will depend on how big your beets are). If you have a couple smaller beets you can wrap them all together. Roast larger ones individually. Remove from the oven when a fork pierces the beet easily. Allow to cool for ~10-15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove skin by peeling back the outer layer. Use foil or paper towels to help you do this without staining your fingers. If you’re particularly concerned about it (or have a lot of hands to shake the next day), pick up some disposable kitchen gloves.
Bring a a large pot of water to boil, and salt the water generously. When water is boiling, add pasta of choice and cook according to package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare pesto: quarter beets (use a plastic cutting board for easiest clean-up) and place into food processor with garlic and almonds. Pulse until finely chopped. Then add lemon juice, zest, olive oil, Parmesan and salt. Taste and feel free to add a little more salt or lemon to taste (I added a pinch more salt).
Toss pasta and sauce together in a large bowl. Top with additional shaved Parmesan, lemon zest, and chives. Leftovers are great hot or cold, but it’s worth noting that the pasta tends to soak up the sauce and will likely need some adjustments – try a squeeze more lemon juice, and a little extra salt and pepper to start.