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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Vermont Cassoulet




Cassoulet - the ultimate winter comfort food! 

At this time of year, there is nothing quite like cassoulet. It is totally warming, savory, and satisfying.

When making this dish, it's important to stay flexible; the traditional version is made with a variety of meats that would be typical of life in the French countryside: ham hocks, garlic sausages, pancetta, and confit duck legs. However, I made this cassoulet from the kind of things that I keep on hand in Vermont: homemade hot Italian sausages, smoky Vermont bacon, and proscuitto ends. And I assure you, it was quite wonderful. 

Is this valid, and is this a real cassoulet? Yes, it is a real Vermont cassoulet. Here in Vermont, we have what I think are some of the best smoked meats in the world, and I'm from the Midwest.  I also make my own fresh sausages, and this time I used hot Italian sausages. This gave the dish a charge that I think improves it greatly, no matter where you live.

The meats can vary, but the concept should carry through: dried beans cooked with tomato and savory meats and spices. If you make duck confit, by all means add it.  The consistency of a good cassoulet should be creamy and rich; there should be enough meat so that each serving spoonful has a good-sized chunk. All the meat is cooked until fork-tender, allowing flavors to blend throughout the dish. 



Cassoulet



 Ingredients

1 lb interesting dried white beans, such as yelloweye bean, rinsed, stones removed
4 large strips of smoky bacon, cut into 2" pieces
4 hot Italian sausage
1 cup beer braised pork*, in large chunks (optional)
1 large slice of prosciutto, about 1/2" thick (as from a prosciutto end)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large  onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 can diced tomatoes in puree, or 3 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspooon thyme
1 large bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
salt and ground pepper


Process

  1. *To make in advance: *beer braised pork (optional): Place  3-lb pork roast in a lidded braising dish with 1 bottle of beer, 2 carrots, a bay leaf, rosemary sprig, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Put on lid, and place in 350F oven for 2 and 1/2 hours, or until very tender.  For the cassoulet, remove fat and chop the desired amount into 1 1/2" chunks.



  2. Place the beans in a stockpot and cover with water; soak 8 hours or overnight.
  3. Cut the pork sausages in half; place in large saute pan with the olive oil, onion, and carrots. Saute over medium-high heat until lightly browned.

  4. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add the piece of prosciutto and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Finally, add the celery, tomato, thyme, bay leaf and parsley. Turn off heat.

  5. Bring the beans in the stockpot to a boil, then drain and rinse. Rub a 12-cup braising dish or glazed cast-iron casserole with olive oil.  Place the bacon pieces in the bottom of the dish, then half of the beans. Distribute half the meat mixture around, pressing in the pieces of meat. Put in the rest of the beans, and the braised pork chunks and the rest of the meat mixture. Save the slice of prosciutto for the top, and press it down in the beans until it is covered.

  6. Pour in enough stock to come 1" from the top of the 12-cup dish. Top with a few grinds of salt and pepper. Place in a hot (350F) oven for about 3 hours, or until beans are done. Add a bit more stock if the dish becomes too dried out. At the end of cooking, there should be a nicely browned top.

  7. Serve, or refrigerate and reheat to serve the next day. This dish actually improves somewhat from holding.



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