This is one of those dishes that seems to be a constant confusion when people are eating it—but all in a good way, of course! Instead of the typical green pesto, this is bright pink. And although it looks like a heavy dish, the flavors are fresh and light. The basil and walnuts bring out the traditional pesto taste and the beets add richness to the dish—reminiscent of a decadent Alfredo sauce. Topped with fresh basil, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkling of kosher salt, this is healthy, luxurious eating at its best.
3 cups beets, peeled and sliced into
1 cup toasted walnuts*
1½ tablespoons lemon zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup fresh basil leaves, plus more leaves for garnish
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon plus 3 tablespoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound dried fettuccini
* Toasted walnuts elevate the nuttiness and add decadence to this sauce. To toast walnuts, place whole walnuts into a dry sauté pan and turn heat to medium. Stir the walnuts frequently to avoid any burning, toast for about 5 minutes, until you can smell a strong nutty aroma in the air. Turn off the heat and allow the walnuts to return to room temperature before using in the dish.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the beet rounds. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the beets are fork tender. Remove the beets to a large bowl, allowing them to come to room temperature. Reserve the cooking liquid.
- In the bowl of a food processor add the walnuts, lemon zest, lemon juice, basil leaves, garlic, teaspoon kosher salt and red pepper flakes and process on low or pulse for 2 minutes, until the mixture becomes a rough paste.
- Add the beets to the food processor and process on high for 4–5 minutes, until there are only a few lumps remaining.
- With the food processor on, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube of the food processor and continue to process until the pesto is a smooth sauce, about 4 minutes. If the mixture is too thick, you can add the reserved beet liquid a tablespoon at a time to thin it out.
- Add 3 tablespoons kosher salt to the reserved beet liquid and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the fettuccini and cook until just shy of al dente (refer to the manufacturer’s package for cooking time).
- While pasta is cooking, add the pesto to a large sauté pan and warm over low heat.
- When the pasta is done drain into a colander, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Increase the heat of the pesto to medium and add the drained pasta. Cook for three to four more minutes until the pasta is al dente. If the sauce is too thick, thin it out by adding a ladle or 2 of the pasta cooking liquid.
- Serve with fresh basil leaves on top.
Matt LaBombard, a 2011 graduate of Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts, is associate publicist and social media coordinator at Storey Publishing in North Adams, Massachusetts. Upon returning to the Berkshires, he has found the perfect balance between work, family and friends while enjoying all the pleasures of good home cooking.