I kicked off my "resolution" to make one new adventurous new recipe per month this year with Cassoulet, a traditional French dish. Though the name suggests casserole, it leans toward the stew end of the spectrum. I thought, with all the haute-y aura surrounding the dish, that it would be extremely complicated and expensive to make. When I started shopping for the ingredients I was reminded of that lovely scene in Ratatouille, where the snooty food critic is propelled back to his childhood by tasting the humble peasant dish--zucchini, eggplant, peppers, love and time. The ingredients cost me very little; bulk beans and small amounts of inexpensive meats made for long braises.
But I got to buy salt pork! I've never seen it in real life, after stocking my virtual wagons full of the stuff for many trips across the Oregon Trail on our family PC. It's pretty much what I thought it would be: pieces of pork studded with salt. Not something you want to cook up for breakfast, but perfect for imparting a bunch of flavor in something that's cooking for 10 hours.
The traditional recipes call for a special French sausage (the Tolouse sausage), but I didn't have the inclination to call all over Portland for rare sausages and the recipe I had (courtesy of Brynne and Dan) substituted Italian sausages. I browned these and the other meats (except for the salt pork; I didn't want the salt to go away) before they cooked to give them a little bit of crust before the long, slow finish.
I was a little sad that the recommended method of cooking was Crock-Potting, which meant no picking out a beautiful baking dish to cook my adventure in. Nope, just Ol' Purple Potty. Everything did look gorgeous, all freshly mixed together. To help make up for the sophisticated deficit, I decided to break out our best china to serve it on. Why wait for company to come over, after all?
The cassoulet was aromatic and fully cooked in about 9 hours, and thickened up as it cooled and overnight. The leftovers were more casserole-y, while the night-of was, as Matt insisted "stew." The flavors were simple: beefy and scented by the wine, with fresh notes from the tomato and herbs lightening the heavy dish up. I served it with crusty French bread and the good butter, the kind that comes wrapped in gold foil in a little basket and tastes more like some fantastic cheese than mere butter. And a Pinot Noir from Anne Amie Vineyards, where we spent our anniversary last year.
What is amazing about a dish like cassoulet is seeing how people elevated simple, limited ingredients into dishes that were so nourishing and elegant. And crowd-pleasing as well: Matt took leftovers for lunch. That is a new culinary adventure success.
Cassoulet (Sent by Brynne and Dan, from Tom of Napa's Crushpad)
1 pound dried great Northern beans, rinsed
2 cups chopped onions
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 glove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 pound salt pork, diced
1/2 pound boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound boneless chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound hot or mild Italian sausage
2 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 cups beef broth or bouillion
1 cup dry red wine
This recipe can be done either in a slow cooker (preferred) or in a large pan, such as a Dutch oven, over the stove on low heat. In slow-cooker, combine beans, onions, pepper, garlic and parsley. Wrap cloves, bay leaf and thyme in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine to seal. Add to pot. Add salt pork, lamb, chicken, sausage and tomatoes. Pour beef broth or bouillon and wine over all.
Cover; cook on low 9-10 hours until beans and meat are tender. Remove and discard spice bag. Serve hot.