Saturday, February 8, 2014

Winter Dinner at the Farm

I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures, I threw this together just after noon and it didn't occur to me to document its creation until after it was well on its way to perfection.

Cassoulet is a traditional dinner from southern France (the area around the town of Toulouse and Carcassonne).  There are many variations on the dish but they all center around white beans and confit of duck or goose and some sausage as well as any other meat you might like to try. Lots of folks put lamb or mutton in, only very rarely does one see beef cooked in with the dish. There are some rather entrenched schools of thought regarding this simple dish.  Many swear tomatoes are essential to its preparation while others would sacrifice their firstborn to prevent dreaded nightshade from polluting their cassoulet.

I am an American, through and through.  As much as I love the Old World and its idiosyncratic charm, I will not have someone else's rules or traditions stand between me and the satisfaction of watching my youngest child find the antidote for the winter blahs, the gray cloud that comes and settles in our valley and refuses to relent for months. Be it bitter cold and heavy snow or 40 degrees with driving rain or 50 degrees and mud, there is work to be done.  The animals must be given as much comfort as possible, this means that the human animal may not get in until well after s/he hoped. This can lead to grouchiness and grumbliness but I tell you, if cassoulet is still warming in the oven then the makings of a wonderful evening are in the works.  It is a meal you can prepare and then leave to simmer and improve whilst you tend to what it is that needs tending.

Step 1.

Start with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 1 1/2 or 2 gallon heavy dutch oven type pot. Set heat to medium low.  Coarsely chop a large white onion and and toss it in the pot.  Then chop 4 cloves of garlic and toss the in just as the onions begin to soften.  Let the onions and garlic cook together for a few minutes, then put 28 oz of diced tomatoes in, these can be canned or fresh, whatever you have about the kitchen. Add fennel seed, oregano and black pepper, stir. Toss a dash of salt in now.

While this is happening take 3 slices of bacon and chop them into small rectangles, one slice down the middle and then chop from end to end.  Fry them in a skillet until you have a couple of tablespoons grease in the pan.  Put your andouille sausages in the pan to cook in the bacon grease.  You should cook all eight sausages this way, once done pull aside and slice each sausage into five pieces.

Step 2. - Preheat oven to 280 F

Put the sliced bacon and half the fat into the tomato and onions. Then put 60 oz softened Cannellini beans into the tomatoes and mix well. Pour two cups dry white wine into the mixture and cover, place in the oven.

While this is happening you will want to have had a faux confit in the works.  This will require duck, goose or chicken legs and some sugar, salt and duck fat. Take five legs, coat the in sugar and salt and place them under some very heavy hardware, books, weights, what have you.  Press the legs as long a you can.  Next drench them in duck, goose or pig fat and wrap the in foil and cook for a two hours minimum at 280 F.  Once the faux confit is ready fry the legs in the remaining bacon fat to crisp the skin. 

Step 3. 

Place the legs in the pot with everything else and cover in the oven for as long as you have left until serving, hopefully at least 90 minutes. Some like to sprinkle bread crumbs over the dish, I do not.

Serve with some ciabatta if handy, some asparagus or sautee'd spinach is also quite nice.  Enjoy.

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