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So many people are captivated by the idea of seasonal cooking, and with good reason. Dishes made with the best produce from the farmers' market, grown in season and locally, not only ensure that you cook and serve the finest ingredients but also that you're feeding yourself and your family and friends in a way that's good for the planet.
I've seen many people, however, become too fixated on that word "seasonal" when, in fact, produce doesn't observe strict dates. Most vegetables and fruits are, in fact, at their peak or in good supply during more than one season. Beets are a perfect example.
Most of us think of beets as a vegetable you eat during colder months: boiled beets with a zesty orange sauce to brighten your autumn table, perhaps, or a hearty beet borscht to warm you in winter. But beets actually come into season in summer and remain available throughout autumn and winter. So, beyond those sustaining soups and side dishes, they also make an excellent warm-weather ingredient in brightly colored, flavorful salads.
My Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Pecans and Goat Cheese Crostini shows you how great a multi-season ingredient beets can be. It starts by roasting them whole, a method that caramelizes some of their natural sugars and concentrates their flavor -- so preferable to boiling them. You can use this method to cook any of the many varieties of differently colored, shaped, and even patterned beets sold in supermarkets and farmers' markets today.
I toss the beets with a little simple vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar and mustard, whose touches of acidity and pungency complement the vegetable's sweetness. Then, I arrange them on a bed of salad greens. I like to use mesclun, the French-style blend of baby leaves that includes some bitter varieties like arugula, radicchio, and curly endive, which provide a pleasing contrast. It's available in many well-stocked markets, but you can also substitute any mixed baby greens.
Served this way alone, the salad is delicious. But I also like to add two more finishing touches that make it truly memorable. Over the beets, I scatter some caramelized pecan halves, a simple preparation so delicious you'll want to make more than you need to have them on hand as a snack. And, on the side, I serve crostini -- thin slices of sourdough brushed with olive oil and crisped under the broiler -- smeared with creamy goat cheese.
The combination is so delicious that it's likely to become a regular on your home menu while the warm days linger -- and then continue as a favorite through fall and into winter, whenever beets are in season!
Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Pecans & Goat Cheese Crostini
Serves 4 to 6
1/2 cup shelled pecan halves
3 tablespoons powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
RED WINE VINAIGRETTE:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1 shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large red beet
1 large yellow beet
4 cups mesclun or mixed baby salad greens
GOAT CHEESE CROSTINI:
6 thin slices sourdough bread, cut crosswise in halves
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
Freshly ground black pepper
First, prepare the Candied Pecans up to a day ahead or at least 1 hour in advance. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add the pecan halves, blanching them for 30 seconds and then draining immediately. While the pecans are still hot, in a mixing bowl stir together the powdered sugar and corn syrup. Add the hot drained pecans and stir well to coat them evenly. Drain the pecans of excess sugar mixture and spread on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool and, if not using right away, store in an airtight container.
For the dressing, put the vinegar, mustard, sugar, and shallot in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Transfer the dressing to a bowl, stir in the chives, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
For the salad, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Trim off the beet leaves, leaving about 1 inch of the stem. Put the beets in a shallow baking pan and add about 2 cups cold water. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the beets are tender enough to pierce easily with a metal skewer, about 1 hour depending on size. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Trim and peel the beets and cut into thin slices, transferring to a bowl. Toss with just enough of the dressing to coat the slices well. Cover and set aside.
Shortly before serving, preheat the broiler. Lightly brush the sourdough bread on both sides with olive oil and toast under the broiler until golden on both sides, watching carefully to make sure the bread doesn't burn. Remove from the broiler and spread one side of each piece with some goat cheese. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
To serve the salad, put the greens in a mixing bowl, and toss with a little more of the dressing to coat them lightly. Arrange in beds on 4 or 6 serving plates. Arrange the beets on top of the greens and scatter some pecans on top. Place 2 or 3 crostini around the salad on each plate. Serve immediately.
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Roasted Beet Salad with Pecans and Goat Cheese Crostini
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