Friday, September 3, 2010

Cassoulet

This column first published in the Canberra Times 25 August 2010.
So humble and satisfying and one of the great dishes of the Languedoc Region in France, the cassoulet continues to be a standard on French menus. A rich and hearty casserole of slow cooked white beans, often served with duck or goose, is just as comfortably eaten as a stand- alone meal when served with crusty sourdough bread and butter. I especially love the depth of flavour the smoked meats impart, and the aromas that flow through the house when the cassoulet is cooking. Like any form of long cooked stew, its basic ingredients of beans and meat can be varied and I have adapted this modern version to be leaner and faster, while still retaining that sticky deliciousness that is so satisfying.

Legend has it, that among the best French cooks it is considered a heinous crime to open the oven door or to create any kind of draught until the crumbs on top are golden brown and the cassoulet is ready to eat. The cassoulet can be cooked in an earthenware pot and kept in the fridge and reheated in the same pot. This is a dish that ages well, and will keep refrigerated for about 4 days. You may find you need to add the remainder of the retained broth when reheating, depending on the consistency. I found this is perfect for serving on a chilly winter evening or a relaxed weekend lunch. Remember, this dish requires preparation the night before to allow time to soak the beans.

Easily serves 6

350g cannellini beans
Photo by Steve Shanahan
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
400g bacon pieces
1 pork hock
2 pigs trotters
6 pork sausages (toulouse style are good)
4 small onions
1 leek sliced
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 stick of celery sliced
2 carrots chopped
4 bay leaves
3 tblsp tomato paste
3 cloves
bunch of thyme
bunch of chopped parsley
fresh baguette breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 180C. Soak the beans overnight in the bicarbonate of soda and water to cover. Brown the bacon pieces in a large ovenproof dish. Add all the meats, chopped leek, whole onions, chopped carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, garlic and cloves and cover with water. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and cook gently for about one and half hours. Remove the meats from the casserole dish, reserving the stock. Add the drained, rinsed beans and tomato paste to the stock and simmer very gently until al dente and can be squashed with the back of a spoon– this should take about one to one and half hours. Slice the meats and return to the casserole dish and bring back to simmering point. Spoon out excess broth so the level comes to about one centimetre below the top of the beans. Retain the leftover broth in the fridge if needed when reheating. Sprinkle with a thick layer of breadcrumbs and cook in the oven for one and half hours and breadcrumbs are golden. Press down the breadcrumbs mid way through cooking to allow the crumbs to become golden and crispy. Top with chopped parsley and serve with crusty sourdough bread and butter, washed down with a humble red.