Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer Cassoulet

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.

Serves 4

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)
kosher salt
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.


Wendy said...

You're a woman after my own heart! I love batoning down the hatches too. There's nothing better than lighting candles, opening some wine and making something warming on a wintry night, but it's sometimes what you need in the summer months too.
Will be making this cassoulet tonight!

winedeb said...

A Summer Cassoulet right now would be great, if it was rainy and cool and I have noted that you have had a few of those days. As soon as I am trapped in the house for one of those days, which will probably be soon, I definetly will try your lovely dish. I so enjoy how they make the house smell. A great excuse to pop the cork on a nice red zin at the same time!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Wendy, is it the Scot in me then? It's literally one of my absolute favorite things to do. I heard it's going to be thunderstorms for us this weekend and I just took out White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life. R is so bitter.

Hi Winedeb! You know, that's actually just what we drank with ours the other night! That's so funny.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I really think this is what I am going to miss the most about New England...I just adore the fall and batoning down the hatches.

I don't like winter except for those few times that I actually got to stay home during a big snowstorm, snuggled under a blanket...for me the best winter comfort food is stuffed cabbage rolls. I have never actually made cassoulet, but I will have to try it when it gets a little colder here in Florida....not sure when that will be.

Now I feel like booking a trip to New England for the fall!

Wendy said...

Just had this for dinner. Only had tinned chickpeas (organic are the nuttiest) and normal butcher's pork sausages, nevertheless it was amazingly good. Thanks! :)

Joanne Rendell said...

i could eat this on a summer's day picnic! i really could.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jenn, I quite agree! Winter is best endured, drink in hand, underneath a quilt, in front of a fire! But the act of hunkering down is simply divine - perhaps just turn up the A.C.? I'll definitely be posting about proper cassoulet in the coming months, and I think booking a trip to NE sounds like a great idea. With a stop in New York of course!

Wendy, I'm so glad you made it, and even happier that you enjoyed it! The chickpeas sound like a great touch, and there's nothing like good British butcher's proper pork sausages! There's one shop in NYC, Myers of Keswick, where we can get them sometimes. It's such a treat! They also have pickled onion Monster Munch, prawn cocktail skips, Refreshers, and Lilt. mmmmmmmm

Jo Jo, you could eat this at a summer's picnic! You really could! If only Mr F hadn't scarfed down the lot in one of his 2am raids on the fridge...

Terry B said...

This sounds lovely! I totally understand the sentiment that brought it about too--very recently, in the midst of Chicago summer heat, I made a big pot of chili.

marisa said...

Gorgeous idea for a rainy day. I love fresh beans.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Terry B, I love it! Those Chicago summers can get pretty intense, and somehow, a cozy winter meal constitutes a break from the heat. Chili in July sounds right up my alley!

Hi Marisa, I love fresh beans too! They have such a wonderful tooth to them compared to canned, and more interesting flavor too!

Joanna said...

I love the sound of this (not being a native of Carcassonne). But, tell me, is a cranberry bean different from a cranberry? If not, then the mind boggles!


Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Joanna, Yes not being une Toulousienne, I find myself unflustered by the whole thing too ; )
These beans are actually pretty similar to borlotti bean. Just a bit rounder actually. But cranberries are actual berries and a much deeper red. We have them a lot over here, but I don't think I've ever seen them in Britain. Have you? They need a lot of sugar, and cooking or maceration is a must, but they're delicious!

roger said...

Nice piecs & well researched. You can't beat a good cassoulet & I'll have to admit to craving even supermarket tinned varieties on lasy days.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Roger and thanks! I've always been curious about the tinned variety as a way to get a quick fix. Cassoulet's the sort of thing that always gets better from sitting around a few days, so I always suspected the stuff in tins could be guiltily divine...

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