Vegnesday: Penne in Roasted Beet Sauce

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Vegnesday, and I’m back with a bang – this savory (and ever slightly sweet) beet pasta dish might be my favorite vegetable experiment yet.  I try not to toot my own horn too much on here, but it’s delicious!  Even my husband, who doesn’t like beets, acknowledged that it was tasty (but still didn’t eat a whole bowl…I know better than to try to force that kind of issue.  I love beets, but hate raisins, and I’ll probably never take more than a bit of even the best raisin dish).  I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit is due, and Bev Cooks gets 3 thumbs up from me for inventing the brilliant dish I modeled this on.  Best thing:  beyond tasting good, this is also beautiful.

I modified Bev’s recipe a bit to make it less sweet – she added sugar to the beet sauce, but I feel like the natural sweetness of the beets is plenty.  I also swapped thyme for fresh oregano and left off her garnish of poppy seeds.  The end result is a pasta dish that’s satisfyingly filling, salty and sweet, and tastes like beet without the intense concentration of eating a full mouthful of beet.  The pasta compliments it in a way that’s even nicer than I expected when I first saw the original dish and thought it sounded good.  I’ve got a nice big pot of this now, and I’m going to happily eat it for days!

For added fun, and because I just can’t help myself now that I’ve gotten into the boozy baking groove with my Gin & Tonic Cake and Sweet and Salty Margarita Bars, the sauce includes 2 tablespoons of sweet vermouth (which cooks off but contributes to the flavor of the sauce).  If you don’t have any on hand (and I recognize not everyone’s a weirdo like me to just have it sitting in a cabinet somewhere), you can use vodka, sake, or just some more chicken or vegetable broth instead.

Because you have to start by roasting both the beets and the garlic before you can make the sauce and cook the pasta, this takes a little longer than you’d generally want to do on a weeknight after getting home from work.  I’d recommend making a batch on a Sunday afternoon to take in for lunch or have on hand for quick dinners throughout the week – I get the feeling it’s going to be even better once the flavors have a chance to all marry one another fully.

Yield:  8 servings        Total Time:  1 hour 15 minutes (25 active)

Penne 5

Ingredients

  • 3 medium-sized beets or 4 small beets; cleaned, peeled, and diced
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano, plus more for garnish
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup whole milk (or cream)
  • 1 pound (a whole box) penne pasta
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • On a rimmed baking sheet covered in foil, toss the diced beets with 1 tbsp oil, the oregano sprigs, and generous pinches of salt and pepper.  Chop the top off of the head of garlic to expose the cloves, wrap a small piece of foil around it without closing the top yet, pour a splash of olive oil directly on the garlic, and close the top tightly.  Put the wrapped garlic on the baking sheet with the beets.

Penne 1

  • Roast for 40 minutes.
Penne 3
This photo is a love letter to roasted garlic – I could easily eat a whole head like this on it’s own, but since it adds such amazing flavor to the sauce I restrained myself! What you don’t use immediately you can nibble as you cook or set aside for other recipes.
  • Transfer the cooked, diced beets to a food processor.  Add cloves of roasted garlic to taste (I put in 5), balsamic vinegar, vermouth, half of the cheese, and the 2 remaining tablespoons of oil.  Pulse until the mixture is as smooth as you can get it.
  • Transfer the beet mixture to a small saucepan.  Add the broth and milk/cream and bring it to a light simmer.  Add the rest of the cheese and another pinch of salt, to taste.  Simmer on medium-low while you prepare the pasta.
  • Cook the penne in salted water until al dente, per the directions on the box.  Drain and return to the pot.  Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to combine.  Admire its beauty.  Give it one more taste and season accordingly.
  • Serve the pasta garnished with a good sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and some fresh oregano.  Enjoy!
Penne 4
This is what it looks like without the Parmesan garnish so you can admire the beautiful color.  You could eat it like this, but c’mon, cheese is delicious and more is always better.

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