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.
You can find information on cassoulet, details about the challenge and the recipes provided on this page. Among the options offered, I chose to make the Vegetarian Cassoulet, which is basically a bean stew. The recipe from Gourmet is excellent, so much so that I made it three times in the span of a couple of weeks. And I also made the Leek Confit (more on this below).
For the cassoulet, I always started with dry beans (fagioli secchi). I haven't been using canned beans for years and there is no coming back. The beans I cook are much tastier than the canned ones and cooking a pot of them is no trouble at all. Plus, there are a limited number of bean varieties that are available canned, so purchasing dry beans allows you to expand your horizon. If you have not yet decided on a New Year's resolution, I suggest this one: preparing beans from scratch at least once a month.
My three renditions of the vegetarian cassoulet had some variations. However, in all cases:
- I roughly halved the original recipe
- I used one cup of beans, soaked overnight in 4 cups of water, then cooked with aromatics (see this post for details on how I cook dry beans)
- instead of water, I used the bean broth, adding water to it as needed to obtain the specified amount of liquid
- I used my own homemade bread to make the breadcrumbs instead of a baguette (sfilatino)
Here are the variations (the numbers refer to the relevant rendition of the recipe):
- I used canario beans
- I used black-eyed peas (fagioli dall'occhio) and cut the vegetables (leeks, celery and carrots — porri, sedano e carote) into pieces smaller than specified in the recipe; I did not mash the beans once they were cooked and forgot the breadcrumbs when I served the dish to our guests (sorry, Christine!)
- I used canario beans again, and again cut the vegetables into pieces smaller than specified; also, I used baby carrots (1/2 lb.) instead of adult ones
The two photos portray the third incarnation of the recipe.
Back to cassoulet, the word itself intrigues me for its definite resemblance to cassoeula, a dish typical of Lombardia, the region where Milan is located. The two dishes contain different ingredients. According to the Larousse dictionary, cassoulet is:
(languedocien cassoulet, de cassollo, terrine)
Ragoût de haricots blancs secs avec de la viande de porc, du confit d'oie ou de la viande de mouton.
Cassoeula is made with pork meat (ribs, feet, a type of small salami, rind, etc.) and verza (Savoy cabbage), besides onion, carrots and celery (no beans). If you are interested, on this page there is a recipe.
As it has happened to me before, close to the deadline, I realized I misread the challenge and missed the confit requirement. The recipe I followed did not ask for a confit, so it was easy to overlook that part. Last night, I made Leek Confit. I adapted the recipe given for the challenge to our household's dietary needs using olive oil instead of butter to cook the leeks. I don't have a photo of the leeks, so I will share a recent image of sky and ocean instead.
The days around the Holidays were stormy along the California coast. We did not have snow storms like elsewhere in the country, but we had our kind of winter weather. In between fronts, the sky (cielo) can be remarkably beautiful and the ocean (oceano) amazingly calm, like on the first morning of the New Year.
You will see many variations of the theme of cassoulet, when you browse the creations of my fellow Daring Cooks. A special thank to Jenni and Lisa for an interesting and fun challenge.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the cassoulet vegetariana audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]