Every Monday, we head downtown for a local walking event (Meet Me at Maynards) that takes place from about 5 to 7 pm, which means that we leave the house around 4:30 and don’t get back until at least 7:30, sometimes a bit later. That means we like to have a simple, easy, and fast dinner planned. This past Monday, we decided on a basic pasta dish with beets and goat cheese. But, as with many plans, this one went slightly awry.
We knew we’d need the beets cooked up in advance; otherwise, it wouldn’t be a fast dinner, so we simply roasted a few on Sunday while we were making something else. Afterwards we peeled the beets and stuck them in the fridge for the next day. From there, it would be easy to boil some pasta, add the beets at the last minute to warm them, drain, and stir in some fresh goat cheese.
Instead, we went out to dinner with some friends, turning our Monday night dinner into a Tuesday afternoon lunch. Which was for the best, since we had time to think of adding a few things, such as the walnuts, to make it a bit more than fast, easy food.
The only thing that makes this dish fast and easy is a bit of planning: do as we did and roast those beets while you have something else in the oven. We suggest 350°F for the roasting temperature above, but it doesn’t matter that much. If the oven temperature is between 300 and 400°F it’ll be fine. Goat cheese: we know, we know, we’ve had the bad goaty-tasting goat cheese, too, but it’s possible to find good goat cheese. We’re lucky to get ours from Black Mesa Ranch through our CSA; it’s very good. For commercial pasta, we’re somewhat particular and prefer the Barilla brand. It’s good, and not too pricey.
Procedure in detail:
Prepare beets. Ideally, do this in advance, especially if you’re looking for a quick and easy dish, as we were. Simply scrub the beets, rub with vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, wrap in foil, and bake in the oven at about 350°F until tender. This may take as little as 30 minutes, or over an hour, depending on the size of the beets. Once tender, let cool until you can handle them and rub off the skins. Slice each beet into eight wedges.
Toast walnuts. Place the walnuts in a small skillet over medium heat and toast, 5 to 7 minutes. Remember that while toasting walnuts, or any kind of nut, brings out flavor, toasting them too long makes that flavor bad, so stir often and remove the nuts as soon as they’re toasted to your liking. Make sure to remove them from the pan, as the residual heat will continue toasting the walnuts. Set aside.
Boil pasta. Bring a large kettle of salted water to a full and rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, noting that you’ll want to add the beet wedges about 2 minutes before the pasta is done.
Add beets. When the pasta is nearly done, add the beets and continue cooking until the pasta is done and the beets are heated through. Drain thoroughly and transfer to heated bowls (we just pop the bowls into the oven set at 200°F when we begin cooking).
Add cheese. Divide and crumble the goat cheese among the bowls of pasta. Let it warm for about 30 seconds and give everything a gentle stir to mix in the now- melting goat cheese.
Finish. Sprinkle with walnuts, drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar, season with a bit of freshly ground black pepper, and, if possible, a large-grained salt, such as French sea salt. Serve at once.
We liked this, and by preparing the beets the day before we did have an easy and fast lunch — about 20 minutes from start to serving. Of course, we did make sure to speed it up by toasting the nuts while the pasta boiled, but that’s not really particularly difficult. We really liked having the crunchy sea salt on the beets, but we think kosher salt would be a fine substitute. We loved the pairing of flavors: the beets go well with goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar goes well with both. We regretted not having any Balsamic Reduction on hand to use in place of the vinegar. Next time. Four stars.