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Archive for January, 2011

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.

Following up on the success of the Leek Confit (Daring Cooks Challenge Part 1), I thought, Hey, this cassoulet won’t be too difficult. I did have the vague apprehensions in the back of my mind that haunt me every time I attempt making a soup, and that is that the soup will taste exactly like food floating in water, instead of tasting like soup. But I swept those aside by saying to myself:

“It’s a recipe from Gourmet, it has to taste good.”
“It’s a Daring Challenge; I don’t have to be stellar the first time around.”
“If we don’t like it I never have to make it again.”
“If we don’t like it, maybe we can find ways to improve the recipe the next time around.”

Armed with such positive thinking, I embarked one Saturday evening on An Adventure in Cassoulet. What is cassoulet, you ask? That’s a very good question. Cassoulet originated in the southern, Occitan region of France, and is easily described as a slow-cooked bean stew or casserole containing meat (pork sausages, goose, duck, or mutton) and white haricots beans, which are familiar to us in America as cannellini beans. Occitan cuisine itself is mostly Mediterranean and shares similarities with Catalan cuisine to the west and Italian cuisine to the east, and indeed this particular cassoulet recipe reminds me strikingly of the Tuscan bean soup ribollita, which also features cannellini beans. The name cassoulet itself comes from the dish the meal is made in, a deep, round earthenware dish called a cassole. Think of American casseroles from the 1950s and you’re along the same track. Same etymology and same basic idea.

Despite the recipe being easy to read and clear in its instructions, my worst soup fears came true: It tasted like not much more than vegetables floating in a bowl of water. Even the herbs and spices, which smelled so divine during the cooking, couldn’t do much to make this taste like something other than a bowl of tender veg in boiling water. I don’t know where I go wrong with soup, but I have noticed one thing: Using only water, NOT stock, is not the way to go. To keep this vegetarian, a vegetable stock may well have been used; but if we use this recipe again, and we might, we’ll use chicken stock and toss in some chicken or turkey meatballs. It makes it a sort of Occitan Wedding soup, but what’s wrong with that? Nothing, I say. A part of me thinks that half the point of these challenges is getting our creative cooking brains jump-started, thinking about possibilities and tweaks and hacks and improvements. Maybe if we get a rainy spring I’ll revisit this cassoulet and make some adjustments to the recipe.

Vegetarian Cassoulet
serves 4 to 6
originally appeared in Gourmet March ’08; online recipe here

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
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 (19-oz) cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 qt water

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

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, then water, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, 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.

Discard the herb sprigs and bay leaf from the cassoulet pot. Mash some of beans in the 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.

I put a dollop of leek confit on the top of the soup, since part of the challenge was incorporating our confit in to our cassoulet; but it didn’t do much to improve the dish.

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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.

I’m noticing a trend with the latest Daring Cooks challenges…soufflé…confit…cassoulet… Can we do something next month that pronounces ALL the letters? LOL! I’m definitely feeling the French cooking vibe going around in the Daring Kitchen lately. I never thought I’d be learning to do soufflés and confits and cassoulets, but really, I don’t think I knew what to expect. Just that I’d be challenged with “exotic” recipes. Some would turn out, some wouldn’t, and I’d probably learn something new. So far, so good.

Here’s the thing about cassoulet, though. I’d never heard of it before I read The Matchmaker of Périgord a while back, and let me tell you — it turned me off cassoulet forever. I didn’t even know what it was supposed to be, but in the book it’s a dish that’s been going for 40 or 50 years, and there’s a button in it, and GOD HELP YOU if you take the button out. And there’s a 40-year-old goose leg floating around in there somewhere. It’s incredibly unattractive. So my reaction to this challenge was “Ack! A cassoulet! Noo!” 😦 But the helpful, wonderful hosts, Jenni and Lisa, included vegetarian options, and I embraced this. Not just because it avoided the abundance of duck fat necessary for the carnivorous confit, but because it was leek-based, and you know how much I love that particular vegetable. And as a BONUS, the Leek Confit was Molly Wizenberg‘s recipe.

Leek Confit
Makes 2 cups/480 ml.
originally appeared in Bon Appétit Oct ’08; online recipe here.

Ingredients:
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into ¼ inch thick slices (about 5 cups) and rinsed, rinsed, rinsed, rinsed.
2 tbsp water
½ tsp salt

Directions:
1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium-low heat.

2. Add well-rinsed leeks, stir to coat. 3. Stir in water and salt.
4. Cover pot and reduce heat to low.
5. Cook leeks until tender, stirring often, about 25 minutes.
6. Uncover and cook to evaporate excess water, 2-3 minutes.

Serve with Melba toasts and a thin smear of spreadable chevrie goat cheese.

First of all, my apologies to any other Hough’s Neck/Quincy Center-area Daring Cooks: It was I who pretty much cleaned out the Super Stop & Shop’s selection of leeks on the evening of January 7. There were exactly two bundles of leeks left after I was done stocking up for the confit and the vegetarian cassoulet.

Make sure your leeks are pre-approved by your local Welsh representative:

I personally approve this leek.

Enjoy.

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