Menu 26: Roasted Beet and Feta Salad, Cassoulet and Baked Pears in Marsala

How about traveling from Asia to Europe this week? Because this menu is all European… 

  • Roasted Beet and Feta Salad – page 221
  • Cassoulet – page 338
  • Baked Pears in Marsala – page 457

Did you know that the wild beet, the ancestor of the beet with which we are familiar today, is thought to have originated in prehistoric times in North Africa and grew wild along Asian and European seashores? In these earlier times, people exclusively ate the beet greens and not the roots. The ancient Romans were one of the first civilizations to cultivate beets to use their roots as food. The tribes that invaded Rome were responsible for spreading beets throughout northern Europe where they were first used for animal fodder and later for human consumption, becoming more popular in the 16th century. 

Tip: Since beet juice can stain your skin, wearing kitchen gloves is a good idea when handling beets. If your hands become stained during the cleaning and cooking process, simply rub some lemon juice on them to remove the stain.

I’m not a huge fan of beets, but this salad looks like a good choice as the side to the Cassoulet.

Beloved by generations of French cooks, cassoulet is a rustic, slow-cooked dish made with white beans and a lavish assortment of meats, from duck confit or foie gras to sausages and succulent cuts of pork, lamb or poultry. The hearty, meat-studded dish may be the ultimate one-pot meal. A slow-simmered mix takes its name from the earthenware cassole in which it was traditionally made. The crisped bread crumb crust atop this version contrasts appealingly with the hearty stew beneath.

Obviously if duck is too pricy in your area, you can replace with boneless pork shoulder, chicken thighs (or whole chicken will work well).  Italian sausage is used in this recipe, but I seen it made also with chorizo, but it has to be the precooked Spanish-style chorizo sausage links, not the Mexican style ones.  If you go the Spanish chorizo route, buy the softer style sausage, rather than a dry one for this dish.

The end to this meal should include something light and fresh.  So the Bake Pears in Marsala are sure to please anyone (at least those that like cooked fruit!).  I’m a fan of using the same wine in a recipe and with the dish. Here, it’s a good glug of Marsala in the pot and the remainder of the bottle served with the finished dessert. Sadly, Marsala is a much misunderstood wine – Unfortunately, most people misuse Marsala in cooking, using sweet Marsala in savory dishes – when a dry Marsala labeled “secco” or “fine” is required. In this recipe it’s asking you to use the “dry”, but I truly believe that the sweeter style, would be better – go with your gut. I use a brand called Florio and it is excellent for cooking. They have the sweet or dry Marsala and it’s not expensive, probably about $11-12 for a bottle.  Most liquor stores carries this brand and it should not be very difficult to find.

If you choose to take a sip with your baked pears, don’t be afraid to chill the bottle before. Ah, such harmony.

I’m excited to see what you guys turn out this week.

Let’s get cooking!