Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cassoulet . . . You Say?

Vegetarian Cassoulet
Our book club (or as my husband likes to call it - "drunk club") typically chooses a rather tasty title. We are all foodies as well as readers and enjoy gathering together over a meal and wine with our book. We have read many "food books" (Michael Pollon's Cooked or Julia Child's My Life in France come to mind), but even when the book is not a specific chef biography or book about "food culture" - we enjoy preparing a meal somehow connected with the chosen text. Our most recent choice was the Christopher Moore's comic quasi-historical romp through the late 19th century Parisian art scene, Sacré Bleu. Obviously this put French cuisine on the menu . . . wine, cheese, bread, etc. As host this time around I decided to make the main dish, but my Lenten vegetarianism posed a challenge to create something hearty and somehow culturally relevant to the novel, but also meat-free. A slow-cooked cassoulet seemed right, but these rich bean stews are traditionally cooked with ample quantities of sausage and any number of other varieties of animal flesh. I came up with this rich tasting version which is filling and hits all the right flavor notes. It is also easily made vegan by substituting the butter for the toasted breadcrumbs with olive oil. It was an enjoyable meal - perfect to feed a crowd.

- 1 lb. dried cannelini beans (soaked in water overnight and drained)
- 2-4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. tofu Italian sausage ("soy-sage"), sliced into disks
- 4 medium leeks (white and light green parts), rinsed and chopped
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 sticks of celery, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
-  several springs of fresh thyme, oregano, and parsley tied up in an herb sachet or herb infuser
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 c. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 c. dry white wine - such as pinot gris
- 28 oz. whole tomatoes and their juices
- 1 qt. vegetable broth
- salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 small handfuls finely chopped parsley
- 2 c. of dried breadcrumbs
- 2 Tbsp. of butter (or olive oil)
In a large, heavy pot (such as a Dutch oven), heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium. Add sliced "soy-sage" to oil and brown gently, turning occasionally with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to overcook.

Remove browned "soy-sage" from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Add 2 more Tbsp. if pan has become dry. Add chopped leeks to hot oil and stir gently, cooking until leeks begin to soften, season with salt and pepper and add carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook over medium 5-7 minutes until vegetables are soft and fragrant. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Turn heat to medium-high and add tomato paste and sugar to vegetable mix. Cook, stirring constantly for one minute. Then add tomatoes and their juices, bay leaves, herb sachet, beans, wine, and broth. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low (or low depending on your range) and allow mixture to simmer gently for 2-3 hours, until beans become soft and cooked through. (You may need to add more liquid as the mixture cooks if it starts to look dry. Check and stir periodically.)

Sometime in the LONG process of slow-cooking, toast the bread crumbs by melting butter (or heating olive oil) in a medium pan over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and one small handful of chopped parsley and stir gently over heat until the breadcrumbs become toasty and caramel-colored. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the beans have softened (most of the liquid should be soaked in at this point, but the mixture shouldn't be "dry"), heat the oven to 350˚F.  Remove the herb sachet and bay leaves from the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the browned "soy-sage" and remaining chopped parsley to bean mixture and stir to combine. Remove from heat and sprinkle evenly with toasted breadcrumbs. Bake cassoulet in oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. It goes great with crusty bread and wine!

No comments:

Post a Comment