Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I am a huge fan of battening down the hatches. I believe I touched on this in April, but it would be fair to say that, despite the fact that I don’t even like the cold, things can verge on the maniacal at times. The stories in my family of burns I have incurred making “Christmas Punch” on the first crisp day in, say, October are legion. And I may or may not have told a friend this morning that it could be a good thing if it rained at her September wedding in Maine “for the mood.”
Perhaps it’s the endlessly wet day we had on Monday here in New York, but, at the time, I was truly confused by the odd shadow passing over her face. “Did I really ask this person to be a bridesmaid?” her eyes seemed to say, as I nodded proudly in her direction: “You’ll serve Dark ‘n Stormies – it works!” The fact was that after the heat we’ve had, I’d been thrilled by the prospect of a rainy respite, and, in truth, I had found myself craving that most wintry of dishes: Cassoulet.
For a professional “locavore,” I have a fantastic gift for wanting what I can’t have. Or can I? The cranberry beans have just arrived, plump and mottled with pinkish-red flecks, and the Quattro’s Game Farm market stand has the most delicious duck and pheasant sausages year round. Add a head of young garlic and half a bottle of wine, and you’ve got a seasonal but comforting meal that tastes and smells truly cozy without becoming too heavy for July.
I look forward to discussing traditional Cassoulet at length in the colder months immensely, but, in brief, it’s a Southern French pork, mutton, duck or goose, and white bean ragout whose origin no one agrees on and whose ingredients are much disputed from town to town. Castelnaudry, Toulouse, and Carcassone all claim credit for having created le Cassoulet officiel and deeply scorn other versions. I shudder to think what they’d do to me after reading this recipe, but press on. I promise it’s worth the culinary blasphemy in the name of properly celebrating your next rainy day.
extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced thinly
1 whole head garlic
1 ¾ lbs fresh cranberry, borlotti, or other beans (1 lb shelled)
½ bottle dry white wine
2 cups beef stock or other good stock
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible
freshly ground black pepper
8 good-sized sausages of your choice (I used 4 pheasant and 4 duck, but pork, venison, wild boar, or any other combination you can think of will work here).
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup coarse breadcrumbs (preferably homemade)
small handful fresh parsley, minced
Heat a large casserole or other stovetop and oven-safe pot over medium high heat. Add a glug of oil and then the sliced onion but no salt. You want the onions to caramelize here rather than sweat. Stir every once in a while until they’ve taken on a deep golden color – about 5 – 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, pull the outer layer of paper off of the garlic (it can hold some dirt), but leave the inner layers of paper and the head itself intact. Trim off the roots and then cut the head in half across its equator so that each clove is halved and exposed.
Once the onions are browned, put both halves of the garlic into the pot cut side down. Sizzle for 30 seconds and then add the beans. Stir to combine and then add the wine, stock, bay leaves, and black pepper. Resist the urge to add salt as it will toughen the beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim off any foam, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, adding more stock if too much liquid boils off.
Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Prick the sausages a few times on each side with a sharp knife tip and add a little olive oil to the pan. Working in batches, brown the sausages well on both sides and remove to drain on paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Once the beans have simmered for 30 minutes, squeeze the head of garlic to release the cloves into the cooking liquid, stir in the lemon juice, and check the seasoning with kosher salt and more black pepper if necessary. Arrange the sausages amongst the beans, sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and season with a little more kosher salt. Bake uncovered in the oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven 10 minutes before serving and sprinkle with the parsley.