Friday, December 10, 2010

Root Vegetable Cassoulet

I love cassoulet.  It traditionally comes from Toulouse in Lyon and features slow-cooked beans, duck or goose confit, pork, pork sausages, pork belly, pork skin, and possibly other pork byproducts depending on the recipe.  The beans are often cooked with some of the pork products, imparting a meaty decadence to them.  The dish is served with a base of the beans, topped with the various meats, and a buttery bread crumb crust.  When I think of winter comfort (and, of course, clogged arteries) I think of cassoulet.  It really is a treat, both in the time it takes to prepare, and the sheer number of calories that will be consumed in one sitting (move over, Thanksgiving!).

Daniel Boulud, a native of Lyon, offers a root vegetable cassoulet recipe in his Cafe Boulud Cookbook.  Sacrilegious for a Lyonnaise chef, maybe, but somehow through cooking all the vegetables with the beans you still manage to develop that deep flavor that one expects in a traditional cassoulet.  It does require a lot of seasoning because it lacks the natural saltiness of the pork products, so be sure and keep that in mind when preparing this dish.  I went one step further and replaced the butter with extra-virgin olive oil, making this dish entirely vegan.  It will take a little time to prep all the vegetables and cook the beans through (make sure you stir this well so the beans cook evenly!), but I assure you that even meat-lovers, like myself, will not miss the meat in this dish.  This is true winter comfort at its best, without all the guilt!

Root Vegetable Cassoulet
Serves 6
(Adapted from Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud Cookbook)

2 cups dried cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
7 cups unsalted/low-sodium vegetable stock or broth
6 stalks celery, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 3-inch lengths
3 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 3-inch lengths
2 large turnips, peeled, trimmed, and quartered OR 1 medium yellow turnip (rutabaga), peeled, trimmed, and cut into large chunks
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into eighths
2 tomatoes, 1 peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice, the other just cut in half
Bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley and 3 sprigs rosemary, tied together with kitchen twine)
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. tomato paste

1 cup fresh bread crumbs
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil

The night before you want to make the cassoulet, put the dried beans in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by at least an inch. Let the beans soak overnight in the refrigerator, then rinse and drain them. (Or, if you're in a rush--or haven't planned ahead--bring the water with the beans to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, pull the pot from the heat, and soak the beans for an hour. Rinse the beans under cold water and drain.)

Put the beans in a Dutch oven or large casserole. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the celery, carrots, turnips, fennel, the split tomato, and the bouquet garni. Cut a parchment paper circle to fit inside the pot and press the paper gently against the ingredients. Lower the heat so the liquid bubbles at a steady simmer, and cook, stirring thoroughly now and then, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. Generously season with salt and pepper shortly before the beans are cooked through. When the beans are done, pull the pot from the heat and remove and discard the bouquet garni and whatever is left of the tomato. Drain the liquid from the pot into a pitcher or bowl and keep close at hand. Working gently, transfer the vegetables to a bowl.

Meanwhile, warm 1 T. of the olive oil in a small sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add the onion and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the onion and garlic are tender but not colored, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and, when it's incorporated evenly, add the diced tomato; pull the pan from the heat and set aside.

Spoon the beans into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish and stir in the onion-tomato paste mixture along with the remaining 2 T. olive oil. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to just cover the beans. Top with the vegetables and moisten with more of the cooking liquid. Reserve the remaining liquid if you are going to reheat the casserole. (The casserole can be made up to this point a day in advance, cooled, and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature, then reheat it for about 1 hour in a 350 degree F oven, adding some of the reserved cooking liquid if the casserole seems dry. 15 minutes before the cassoulet's ready, put on the crust and turn up the oven temperature, as directed below.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

Toss together the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, and olive oil. Spread the mixture evenly over the cassoulet and slide the casserole into the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden brown and crusty. You may also utilize the broiler to crisp up the crumbs, if desired.

Bring the cassoulet to the table and serve immediately, spooning crust, vegetables, and beans into warm soup plates.


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