If I had to pick a period in history to be alive, I can tell you it wouldn’t be the 14th century, particularly in France. Life there was no picnic what with the Black Death running rampant throughout Europe, along with The Little Ice Age that brought on torrential rains and The Great Famine (1315-1317), not to mention the 100 Years’ War, and the Catholic Church’s split (aka Papal Schism) over two men who each claimed to be the one true pope. Sure, those were dark times, but it wasn’t only death and starvation that led up to the Renaissance.
In southern France’s Languedoc region, quite possibly in the town of Castelnaudary, someone came up with a recipe for cassoulet, a humble white bean and meat (sausages, pork and preserved duck or goose) stew so named for the cassole (a deep round earthenware pot with slanting sides) it slowly simmered in.
Last weekend, I made vegetarian cassoulet.
Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.
It was a three day affair, which began with soaking cannellini beans overnight.
The next morning, I cooked them in the slow cooker while I roasted butternut squash in the oven.
The stew came together on the third day along with
the garlic bread crumbs
and the shallot and sweet onion confit.
If there is any secret to this recipe, it’s to cook the vegetables until they are tender, without becoming mush.
adapted from Gourmet Magazine, March 2008
1/2 cup shallots (chopped)
4 medium carrots (halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch wide pieces)
3 celery ribs (cut into 1-inch wide pieces)
5 garlic cloves (chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 pounds cooked cannellini beans (equals 2 cups dry, uncooked beans)
1 3/4 to 2 pounds cooked butternut squash (roasted and mashed)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (re-hydrate with 1-inch boiling water; let sit 5 minutes)
3 1/2 cups water
4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs from french bread
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (or more to taste)
fresh-ground black pepper
Make the cassoulet:
Cook shallots, carrots, celery, and garlic in oil with herb sprigs, bay leaf, cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in beans, squash, and tomatoes, followed by water, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender but not falling apart, about 45 minutes.
To make the garlic crumbs while cassoulet simmers:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Toss bread crumbs with oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a bowl until well coated. Spread in a baking pan and toast in oven, stirring once halfway through, until crisp and golden, 12 to 15 minutes.
Cool crumbs in pan, then return to bowl and stir in parsley.
Discard herb sprigs and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with garlic crumbs and stir in shallot and sweet onion confit.
Shallot and Sweet Onion Confit
adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s Leek Confit recipe in Bon Appetit, October 2008
Yield 1 cup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup shallots (sliced)
1 1/2 cups sweet yellow onion (sliced to approximately size sliced shallots)
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Melt butter in large pot over medium-low heat. Add shallots and onions; stir to coat. Stir in water and salt. Cover pot; reduce heat to low. Cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Uncover and cook to evaporate excess water, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve warm.