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In the kitchen with Ricky: beet and walnut sauce a wonderfully seasonal way to dress pasta

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

We’re skipping the National Days this week and going to something fresh and in season with all the cooler weather we are having in the coming days.

During the summer months, fresh tomatoes – with basil from the yard – makes the best fresh pasta sauces. However, during these cooler months, we don’t have the luxury to turn to things quite so fresh. I hope to change that with this recipe today.

Walnuts are very much in season, even here locally, and same with beets. Beets are a cool weather crop, so they’re best, and most in season, in fall and spring. We are highlighting the flavors of these ingredients and letting them shine today in my take on a traditional Ligurian pasta sauce, or pesto. This dish is known as trofie con salsa di noci alla Genovese. Walnut sauce pasta is always a very simple preparation, but it has maximum flavor. The fat from the walnuts gives this pasta a cream-like feel and I can’t think of a better way to cut through the fattiness than by adding beets, which provide an earthiness.

This sauce is also an inspiration from a beet pasta dish I first had in downtown Los Angeles and then actually recreated here in Spokane. I made it first for my chef tasting menu when I came to interview for Red Lion Hotel Corp., and we all know how that went. I’m here, aren’t I?

The sauce comes together simply. Already roasted beets and toasted walnuts are blended with lemon, garlic, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. It then has a chance to warm up with the addition of reserved starchy pasta water, which is critical in this preparation, so please reserve 1 ¾ cups of that liquid before straining your pasta.

Feel free to experiment more with this recipe by adding other ingredients like chives (a personal favorite in this) or chili oil, or swapping out the beet with roasted acorn squash for another great pairing. If you don’t like beets, you can omit them altogether, just add another ½ cup each of walnuts and pasta water.

I hope you find this dish as comforting and fall like as I do.

Beet and Walnut Pasta Sauce

½ pound beets, roasted and peeled

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons of kosher salt

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 ¾ cups walnuts, lightly toasted

½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus more for garnish

Fresh thyme, for garnish

1 pound pasta

1 ¾ cups pasta water

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat.

In a food processor, blend the beets, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice until no large pieces remain.

Add in walnuts and blend until walnuts are ground and only small pieces remain. This should resemble a thick paste.

Transfer sauce to a large bowl, and taste and adjust for seasoning.

Add in grated Parmesan cheese.

Cook pasta, in boiling water, following package directions.

Before straining pasta, reserve 1¾ cups of the pasta water.

Whisk hot pasta water into beet and walnut sauce.

Strain pasta and dump into combined sauce.

Serve; sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and thyme leaves.

Yield: 4-6 servings

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