Vegetarian Cassoulet

recipe image

Here’s a typical Deb story for you: Still making my way through my awesome bean sampler from Rancho Gordo, I decided to conquer the flageolet beans next–they’re the ones that look like miniature white kidney beans, about half of which have the prettiest pale green hue. Since they’re often used in cassoulet, but I find traditional cassoulet to be way too heavy and fatty for my tastes, I started scheming my way to a delicious vegetarian version, keeping the mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), thyme, tomato, garlic, etc. but nixing the duck let confit, pork fat and garlic sausages. I looked at half a dozen recipes, taking notes, keeping this, skipping that, and when I told my fellow cooking geek my plan, she said, “oh, you mean like the Vegetarian Cassoulet from the March Gourmet?”

flageolet, driedflageolet a-drainingmise, mise misechunky mirepoix

Right, er. So, someone is behind on reading her food magazines again, isn’t she? So Gourmet’s vegetarian cassoulet it was! However, at this point I had such a firm idea of what I thought it should be, I made a few adjustments, swapping the water with stock, adding tomato paste (and I would add a can of tomatoes next time), cutting the vegetables smaller than the recipe suggests and then… well, then I did this:

all of a sudden

I broke the vegetarian cassoulet. As always, I blame Alex as he is nothing but trouble, always peering over my shoulder and saying things like, “you know what would make that good? Sausages!” and I had a weak moment and caved. If you’d like, we could pretend that these little discs are, say, vegetarian sausage, or even this turkey variety so not to offend the sensibilities of the pork-wary, I don’t mind. But I can’t lie: we used smoky, porky, fatty kielbasa and it was awesome. It added some of the richness that is lost in this super-healthy vegetarian version, without giving it that that… slick that always turns my stomach.

(mostly) vegetarian cassoulet

Speaking of stomach-turning! … Smells, that is, not food, of course: Alex, my sister and I took my parents to Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York yesterday for a long lunch to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Longtime readers might remember that Alex and I went up there for our first anniversary two years ago, but we had gone at night and it was raining, so we didn’t get to see much of the farm. Yesterday was bright and sunny, and even if not a whole lot was growing yet, we got to see the lambs, pigs and chickens doing their thing. It was great, the food was flawless as always and, well, even though I could be further from a farm today, I still can’t get smell those chickens and pigs out of my nose. Say it with me now: City slickers!

One year ago: Arugula Ravioli

Vegetarian Cassoulet

Adapted from Gourmet, March 2008

For cassoulet

3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only)

4 medium carrots, halved

lengthwise and cut into 1-inch-wide pieces

3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-wide pieces

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

4 thyme sprigs

2 parsley sprigs

1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf

3 (19-ounce) cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained or 4 1/2 cups cooked dried beans (dried beans cooking instructions here)

1 19-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 quart stock

For garlic crumbs

4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs from a baguette

1/3 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Make cassoulet:

Halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces, then wash well and pat dry.

Cook leeks, 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, tomatoes, tomato paste, then stock, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes.

Make 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.

Finish cassoulet:

Discard herb sprigs and bay leaf. Mash some of beans in pot with a potato masher or back of a spoon to thicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with garlic crumbs.

How about some sausage with that! Slice one pound of cooked sausage into discs and mix with the bean and vegetable stew before adding the breadcrumbs. From here, you can either heat them through for another 15 minutes on the stove, then finish with the breadcrumbs, or add an additional cup of water/broth, scatter that breadcrumbs on top and bake it in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes until the sausage is heated through.

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