Hurray! It’s time for the Best Recipes of 2013 here at Cookbooks for Dinner!

Every year, over the course of non-stop weekly testing, a few dishes turn out to be such rock stars that they make it into the regular rotation. Last year, you tried them out, took them to holiday parties, shared them widely and reported great results. So stay tuned! For the next two weeks, I’ll be posting them one at a time, till we’ve savored all twelve.

The book:  Old-School Comfort Food, by Alex Guarnaschelli (Clarkson Potter, $35.00 – here’s my complete review)

The recipe:  Farfalle pasta salad with beet vinaigrette and parsley pesto

Why I tried it: To be honest, the immediate cause was the picture – shocking pink bowties are a no-brainer for both me and my 7-year-old.  Also, I can rarely resist the challenge of trying to make my beet-hating husband enjoy a beet-based dinner.

Why I loved it:  The vibrant color may have been what made me put on my apron, but it was the vibrant mix of flavors – an unexpected play of the earthy and the grassy, plus slivers of scallions to keep the whole thing wide awake – that kept me coming back.  Yes, there is blanching, shocking, and blending. Yes, there are three separate parts to cook.  Still? worth it.  Also, this recipe gave me a newfound respect for the much-reviled curly parsley.

Estimated preparation time:  About an hour.  If you made the beet vinaigrette ahead of time – which you can – you could speed through the rest in little more than half an hour.
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Farfalle Pasta Salad with Beet Vinaigrette and Parsley Pesto

Serves 6 to 8

Parsley pesto
Kosher salt
2 cups loosely packed curly parsley leaves
½ teaspoon sugar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced scallions (green and white parts)
Beet vinaigrette
8 small red beets (about 1¾ pounds total), peeled and quartered
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons capers, drained and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

Pasta
1 pound farfalle pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¾ cup shaved Parmesan

1. Make the parsley pesto: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Prepare an ice bath: Fill a large bowl halfway with ice cubes and add some cold water. Set a colander squarely inside the ice bath. The colander will keep you from having to pick ice out of the parsley later. Add salt to the boiling water until it tastes like seawater. Add the parsley and cook for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the parsley to the colander inside the ice bath and allow to cool for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the leaves slightly and then put them in a blender with the sugar and olive oil. Blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add some water to facilitate blending. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to a bowl large enough to hold the pasta and stir in the scallions. Keep the pot of water for the pasta.

2. Make the beet vinaigrette: Put the beet pieces in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover the beets about three-quarters of the way. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Allow the water to reduce almost completely.

Add another cup of water and reduce again until there is about ½ cup liquid. In addition to vibrant color, you are looking to extract and sweat flavors from the beets. Season with salt. Remove from the heat, strain, pushing some solid through the strainer. Combine the beet liquid with the capers, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Stir to blend. Taste and add more oil or salt if needed. Discard the beet solid.

3. Cook the pasta: Return the pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon to make sure it doesn’t clump or stick to the bottom as it cooks, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander, reserving some of the cooking liquid.

4. Finish the dish: Pour the pasta into the bowl with the parsley pesto, add the beet vinaigrette and butter, and toss to blend. Add some of the reserved pasta water if the mixture seems dry. Top with the cheese and serve immediately.

Reprinted from the book Old-School Comfort Food.  Copyright © 2013 by Alex Guarnaschelli.  Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.