Beets So Easy It’s Fusilli

Are you ready for a showstopper?

I mean really ready! Because that is what this is. It is actually very simple to make. Naturally it is delicious. I would not make it if it weren’t. It’s even a healthy pasta dish. But these facts are merely interesting asides compared to its truly special quality.

The fusilli in this picture is standard semolina pasta. It happens to be a well-made dried pasta. There is no riboflavin or thiamine in this pasta. It comes by its golden hue from the creamy yellow heart of durum wheat semolina and water. Nothing else is added to hinder its sauce sucking attributes.

Though that interesting little fact makes it a far better tasting pasta. It is not what makes this recipe a real showstopper.

The accolades come from its deeply crimson color. The color is so vibrant you could easily call it candy-apple red.

Though there is an unmistakable sweetness to this dish. The real flavors are earthy and acidic, with just a touch of nuttiness.

Because this is pasta with beets, balsamic vinegar and poppy seeds, tossed with a little Parmigiano-Reggiano and mint!

I know you are going to want to make this one. So I’ll get right to the point.

It’s so easy. There I said it…

I usually secretly roll my eyes when cooks harp on the phrase “it’s so easy!” Like some sort of mantra.

Like being easy all by itself is the only information I need to rush right home and start using cherry jell‑o in a perfectly silly recipe for chocolate mousse with candy cinnamon hearts and Grand Marnier cream.

My usual backhanded retort is: “it’s so easy because you are such a good cook”.  I know it sounds like I am being rancorous, but I smile when I say it. So people usually let it go with a chuckle. Yikes! Why did I let that secret out of the bag?

Anyway, here I go. I am going to start this recipe with the phrase: “It’s so easy”. 

All you do is take a few grated beets and toss them in a little hot brown butter and balsamic vinegar. Cover the pan while you get the pasta cooked. The deep red color just happens all on its own. And like a said (more like harped), it’s so easy.

There is no real cooking involved. The heat from the hot noodles does all the work, including melt the cheese. All you have to do is stir and sprinkle in a few toasted poppy seeds and luxuriate in the cheers and applause showering upon you from every corner of the dining room. But don’t you dare admit how easy it is.

Red Beets with Balsamic, Poppy Seeds & Mint

This is my simplified slightly lighter version of a Melissa Clark recipe

  • 4 T poppy seeds
  • 6 T unsalted butter
  • 1 lb fusilli or other “ribbon style” pasta
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 c grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lb beets, washed trimmed but left unpeeled
  • 1/2 c mint leaves, julienned

Using food processor grate the beets and set them aside in a large serving bowl.

Put the poppy seeds into a large saucepan set over over medium-high heat. Toast the seeds about 3 minutes until they are fragrant, stirring constantly. Transfer them to a small bowl and set them aside. Using the same saucepan add 4 tablespoons butter and cook over medium heat. Once it begins to brown remove it from the heat and pour it over the raw beats. Season with salt and pepper and the balsamic vinegar.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted water, boil the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta reserving about 1‑cup of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring until melted. Follow the butter with the grated cheese, reserved poppy seeds and the beets; then add the reserved pasta water and stir quite well. Adding the butter first keeps the cheese from clumping. The heat from the pasta is all the cooking necessary to melt the cheese and cook the beets. Add the reserved poppy seeds. Garnish with mint. Serve with a little more cheese passed at the table.


Greg Henry