Goes to show that we should always try something more than once. I thought I hated beets, but that was because my only experience was with the bland canned version over ten years ago. Luckily, early this spring my friend Danielle introduced me to an amazing Italian restaurant in New York City and I was converted into a bona fide beet lover.
A Voce’s sleek decor reflects its modern take on Italian fare. We sidled up to the outdoor bar, ordered our drinks, and asked for menus. Completely unsolicited the bartender urged us to try the Casunziei, insisting that we would not be disappointed. I mused over the description of beet filled pasta, poppy seeds, horseradish, and smoked ricotta. Beets. Hmmmm…maybe not. He went on to say that it was one of his favorite dishes on the menu. Who knows what went through my mind—maybe it was because he flashed a set of sparkly white teeth, I felt guilty for being so close-minded, or Mars entered the house of Capricorn. Whatever it was, I decided to give it a try.
When the plate was placed in front of me, I was delighted with the vibrant colors. Bright magenta peeked through plump, opaque ravioli dotted with charcoal poppy seeds. Forget that this was made from beets. We eat with our eyes and boy did I start salivating! I took a bite and practically purred when I tasted the sweet, creamy filling punctuated with little bursts of poppy flavor.
I could not stop thinking about that dish, which inspired me to try to make something similar at home. I only have a handful of all-time favorite recipes, but this definitely makes that list! The key is to use fresh beets and to roast them until their sweet aroma permeates the kitchen (or in my case, the whole apartment). Cooking the beets with skins on helps to retain their full flavor.
Beets are available year-round. When purchased fresh, it has a rich, sweet flavor that complements creamy textures such as butter and ricotta cheese. For creating new dishes, another smooth pairing with beets would be dijon mustard.
Come to think of it, the ricotta works with the beets because we often see ricotta paired with other sweet ingredients such as fig and honey. Ricotta is also used as a budget-friendly mascarpone substitute in tiramisu.
The sweetness of beets also provides great contrast to the salty and tangy parmesan. Sweet and salty are a great pair, as in chocolate covered pretzels. Other tangy options would be lemon or orange zest. These would be great to pair with beets in a salad or in a unique dessert, which I will need to experiment with in a future post!
Poppy seeds are sweet and also complement butter and ricotta. The pop of flavor from the poppy ensures that the creamy consistency does not become monotonous. This effect can also be achieved by peppering toasted pine nuts in a dish.
This flavor combination is something I insist you try. It is actually quite easy to make when you use the wonton (square) or gyoza (round) wrappers. Otherwise, swing by A Voce and order the Casunziei. You will not be disappointed.
Beet Ravioli with Poppy Seed Butter
Few stuffed pastas are as pretty as these traditional ravioli from Veneto. The rich, sweet filling of roasted beets is complemented by the unique flavor of tiny black poppy seeds. If you don’t have time to make fresh pasta, use purchased wonton wrappers.
Yield: Makes 8 first-course servings
2 large red or golden beets (about 14 ounces)
1/2 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
1 1/4 pounds Fresh Egg Pasta
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap beets individually in foil; place on baking sheet. Roast until tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Open foil carefully (steam will escape). Cool. Peel beets; finely grate into medium bowl. Add ricotta cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in breadcrumbs.
Roll Fresh Egg Pasta dough into sheets according to recipe. Place 1 dough sheet on work surface. Using 3-inch round biscuit cutter, cut sheet into 7 rounds. Transfer rounds to lightly floured baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining dough for total of 56 rounds.
Sprinkle 2 smooth kitchen towels with flour. Place 8 pasta rounds on work surface, keeping remaining dough covered with plastic. Place small bowl of water next to work surface. Spoon 1 teaspoon beet filling onto half of each round. Dip fingertip into water and dampen edge of 1 round. Fold dough over filling, pushing out as much air as possible and pressing edges firmly to seal. Transfer to prepared towels. Repeat with remaining rounds. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and place in freezer until frozen solid, about 6 hours. Transfer ravioli to resealable plastic bags.)
Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat and stir in poppy seeds; keep warm. Working in batches, cook ravioli in large pot of boiling salted water until cooked through, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to skillet with melted butter; toss to coat. Divide ravioli among 8 plates; sprinkle with Parmesan.
The flavor, color, and texture of roasted fresh beets is incomparable, so don’t even consider using the canned variety. When choosing beets, select bunches with bright, glossy leaves attached.
Fresh Egg Pasta
You can also cut ravioli from the sheets of fresh pasta dough.
Yield: Makes about 1 1/4 pounds
2 3/4 cups (about) soft wheat flour
4 large eggs (scant 1 cup)
Place flour in processor. Add eggs. Using on/off turns, blend until clumps of moist dough form (do not process into ball). Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface; shape into ball. Knead until smooth, sprinkling lightly with flour if sticking, about 3 minutes. Wrap in plastic. Let rest at room temperature at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Rolling dough into sheets:
Cut dough into 8 equal pieces. Cover with plastic wrap. Set pasta machine to widest setting. Flatten 1 dough piece into rectangle; run through machine. Fold in half crosswise (end to end) and run through again. Continue, adjusting machine to narrower settings after every 2 passes and dusting with flour as needed to keep from sticking, until pasta sheet is 22 inches long (scant 1/16 inch thick). Place sheet on lightly floured work surface; cover with plastic. Repeat with remaining pasta pieces.
Cutting dough into strands:
Uncover sheets and let stand until slightly dry but still pliable, about 20 minutes. Fit machine with appropriate cutter and run sheets through, cutting into tagliolini (1/8 inch wide), tagliatelle (1/4 inch wide), fettuccine (1/2 inch wide), or pappardelle (3/4 inch wide) and dusting with flour to keep from sticking. Cut strands crosswise into desired lengths. Using floured hands, toss strands to separate; spread out on towels. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover with towel and let stand at room temperature.)
Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until just tender, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain.