Roasted Beet Inspiration from Pasta Sfoglia
When I saw this gorgeous dish of Farro Spaghetti, Beets, Brown Butter, and Poppy Seeds featured on Grub Street New York a few weeks ago, it was so beautiful it hurt my heart a little.
A recipe from Pasta Sfoglia, a new cookbook by Ron Suhanosky and Colleen Marnell-Suhanosky (owners of the acclaimed Italian restaurant Sfoglia, with locations in NY and Nantucket), this dish is striking with its ruby red stain and specks of poppy seeds.
The book explains that beets, together with poppy seeds, are typical in dishes of the northern Italian regions of Friuli and Alto Adige. While the combination sounds wonderful -- really, I can't wait to try the recipe word for word -- I didn't have poppy seeds on hand and I wasn't ready to commit to all that butter for a simple weeknight meal. Oh yes, and then there was that pesky aversion to goat cheese I have. (I know, first the butter, now this? Please hold the hate mail, I do love flavor, I promise you.)
And so, the bastardization of Pasta Sfoglia's recipe began.
Instead of covering the beets in olive oil and water to roast in a baking dish like they suggest, I went with my tried and true, easy method of wrapping the beets in foil and roasting them on a baking sheet. A little less mess and 1/4 cup less olive oil.
I couldn't find farro spaghetti, but I did have some whole wheat spaghetti in the pantry. A tip for anyone who has ever tried whole wheat spaghetti and hated it, try Barilla's Plus Multigrain Pasta. Unlike many other brands of whole grain pasta, it doesn't taste like cardboard. The texture and flavor are surprisingly similar to regular pasta. Especially in this dish where the color and accompanying ingredients are so spectacular, you won’t even notice the difference.
Barilla Plus Multigrain Spaghetti
For the brown butter sauce, I cut down the 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter to only 3 tablespoons, and made up for the missing half by adding 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
Instead of poppy seeds, I used walnuts chopped finely.
Instead of goat cheese, I used Boursin. Its creamy texture was a good match, as was its tangy, rich flavor. The perfect substitute I thought, with an extra boost of garlic and herb flavoring, and not a trace of the gaminess I find so deterring in goat's milk products.
In the end, despite my changes and substitutions, I think the essence of the dish remained intact to Sfoglia's original recipe. The flavor of the roasted beets is front and center. And what an elusive flavor to describe that is. What does a beet taste like? (Besides red).
It is clean and earthy. Mellow. Wholesome. Paired with the herby tang of the cheese, the toasted walnuts, and brown butter, the dish exudes a woodsy warmth to it. Strong oak trees, sun speckled leaves, and rich dirt crumbling through my fingertips.
Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Beets, Brown Butter, Walnuts
Adapted from Ron Suhanosky and Colleen Marnell-Suhanosky's recipe for "Farro Spaghetti, Beets, Brown Butter, Poppy Seeds" (Pasta Sfoglia).
1 pound red beets, cleaned with leaves and stalks removed
1 package Barilla Plus Multigrain Spaghetti (14.5 oz)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup pasta water
4 tablespoons Boursin cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Wrap the beets in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for an hour until the beets are tender through. Let cool until you can handle them.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
3. Peel the beets and cut into chunks. Tip: wear gloves or place a plastic baggie over your hand to protect your fingers from getting stained. Using a paring knife, peel the skin off the beets. It should come off easily.
4. Add the beets to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process to a rough puree. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions.
5. Add the butter to a 10-inch skillet. Turn on the heat to high. Brown the butter, about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil. Add the chopped walnuts and toast for 1-2 minutes (be careful not to burn). Add the pureed beets, salt, and the ½ cup pasta water to the skillet. Stir to fully incorporate.
6. Use tongs to remove the spaghetti from the pot and place them directly into the skillet with the sauce. Stir to combine.
7. Divide the spaghetti into equal portions and place on warm plates. Use two large soup spoons to form little oval mounds (called quenelles in culinary speak) of the Boursin. Place a quenelle of Boursin on top of each serving.
8. Serve immediately.