Invite your friends over for pasta, and they will expect you to serve up a meal that is tomato-red; white-sauce cream or bright basil green. Set a plate of spaghetti with beetroot pesto before them and watch their eyebrows rise. Some guests will stare warily at their dish, as if it may be radioactive. Others will lean in closely and turn their plate around, admiring the pasta like they would a budding flower. It will be your frank, no-nonsense friend who breaks the awkward silence and says: “I’ve never eaten anything this color. What on earth have you done?”
What you have done is boil a couple of beets until they are soft, and then blitz them in the food processor along with some olive oil, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, pine nuts and a chili. The resulting pesto is lush and creamy, with a spicy kick. It is also, of course, a shocking shade of fuchsia. When you toss the pesto with cooked spaghetti, the spaghetti strands morph from dirty-blond to punk-rock pink in seconds. Even people who consider beets to be one of those vegetables they tolerate rather than crave will enjoy this dish, especially when it is topped with slices of seasoned and baked ricotta cheese. (Not shown in the photo – I was out of fresh ricotta and had to settle for grated Parmesan this time!)
Spaghetti with beetroot pesto and baked ricotta is ideal for warm summer nights and festive wintertime buffets, or when you need to extricate yourself from a brown-food rut. Be warned, however – once you serve this dish to your friends, they may begin responding to your dinner invites with a wink and a query: “So, tell me, what color dish are you making tonight?”
Spaghetti with Beetroot Pesto and Baked Ricotta
2 medium beets
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 teaspoons pine nuts, toasted
1 fresh green chili, deseeded and minced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons roasted garlic paste (optional)
50 milliliters / 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
450-gram / 1-pound wheel of fresh ricotta cheese (not the kind that comes in a plastic container)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 dried red chili, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
500 grams / 1 pound spaghetti
Cook the beets in plenty of boiling water until they are tender, about 35 minutes. While the beets are boiling you can prepare the other pesto ingredients, as well as the baked ricotta.
To make the pesto, peel the cooked beets, chop them into chunks, and blend them together with the Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, chili, lemon juice, roasted garlic paste (optional) and olive oil in a food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To prepare the baked ricotta, begin by pre-heating your oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Place the ricotta wheel on a baking sheet and cut it into two pieces. Pour the olive oil over the cheese and use your hands to coat both pieces. Sprinkle the dried thyme, dried red chili, salt and pepper over the cheese, and use your hands to ensure each side gets seasoned. Bake in the oven until the cheese has just begun to turn brown – about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain. Put the spaghetti into a serving bowl, spoon on the pesto and toss until each strand is evenly covered. Serve topped with slices of the baked ricotta (or grated Parmesan, as an alternative).
Inspiration for this dish came from a Jamie Oliver recipe for pasta with sweet tomato sauce and baked ricotta, as well as from a pesto recipe in the July 2006 edition of Food and Home Entertaining. I mingled and adapted these recipes to create this Fave. Note that slices of baked ricotta can also make a lovely appetizer when laid atop a cracker.
Want to read my first Fave on Friday? Click here.