Linguine Pasta in Beet Sauce
Beet sauce isn't your average pasta sauce. Instead of using the usual boring tomato sauce, I created a sauce made of colorful beets. First, they were boiled, then blended into a smooth purée with caramelized fennel, fromage blanc, crumbled goat cheese and rosemary. I used the vibrant sauce as a a great way to mask the fact that I was serving whole wheat pasta. Our family prefers regular pasta, but I used wheat pasta for its good nutritional value. I find that the types of wheat pasta with the most pleasant texture are linguine and spaghetti; other shapes tend to get gummy when cooked.
I came up with this dish shortly after my friend Olivier shared his genius idea of using puréed beets as a dressing for a simple salad. The beet vinaigrette was so original that it inspired me to find ways to incorporate the sauce in other dishes. Pasta made a lot of sense to me since it requires a sauce. It turned out to be quite a hit at my house; the mouth-watering sauce balances beautifully with the texture of the pasta. Merci Olivier!
Yields: 6 servings1 (13.25-ounce) package whole wheat linguine pasta
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small fennel bulb
½ teaspoon rosemary
1 shallot, thinly sliced
6 whole beets
1-½ tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup goat cheese, crumbled
6 ounces fromage blanc (see tips)
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1-½ teaspoons sea salt
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Cooking the beets:
Scrub the beets under tap water. Remember to trim off a little piece from the ends of the root. Reserve the beet leaves (if any) for another dish; they're edible. Peel and cut the beets into 1"-thick slices.
Place the beets in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 20-25 minutes until softened. Check the liquid periodically and add more water if necessary. Strain the beets and reserve 1 cup or more of the beet juice. Allow to cool a little.
In a mortar and pestle, grind 1 teaspoon of sea salt with the rosemary.
Discard the stalk and thinly slice the fennel bulb.
In a non-stick pan, heat the oil. Add the shallots. Add the fennel. Stir-fry the fennel and cook until slightly browned (about 5-7 minutes). When the color is translucent, season with the ground rosemary-flavored salt.
Making beet sauce: In a blender, combine the boiled beets, the warm caramelized fennel, tomato paste, 3 tablespoons of goat cheese and fromage blanc. Add 3/4 to 1 cup of beet juice and mix until the blender flows smoothly. Season with sea salt and pepper. Set aside.
Cooking pasta: Bring about 8 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. Cook the pasta for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Keep stirring every now and then so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), drain adn transfer to a large serving bowl.
Immediately add beet sauce to the hot pasta. Toss well until the color is uniform. Season with sea salt and pepper.
When you're ready to serve, form a nest of linguine in each plate. Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and garnish with parsley.
A few tips when preparing beets:
- Rule #1: Wear dark-colored clothes.
- Rule #2: Grease your hands with oil before touching the beets.
- Rule #3: Do not cut (or place) beets on a marble baking slab!
- Rule #4: Use a plastic cutting board. You can eventually toss it or bleach it.
- Rule #5: If, unfortunately, you stained your wooden cutting board, use the same technique as you would for removing wine stains; sprinkle a little kosher salt on the stain and spray a little water. Wait for an hour.
The tomato paste is a great balance to the natural sweetness of beets.
I buy fromage blanc at a local market, called the Milk Pail Market. The address is 2585 California Street, Mountain View, California. If you don't have any, you could substitute low-fat cream cheese, ricotta cheese or more goat cheese for the fromage blanc.
I used fennel to add an extra licorice flavor. If you don't have any, you could replace it with caramelized onions.