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Friday, October 15, 2010

Meatless Cassoulet

This recipe from Gourmet for a vegetarian cassoulet (a hearty casual french stew-like dish traditionally compromised of meats and/or sausage and white beans cooked to delicious oblivion and topped with breadcrumbs) was recently featured on the kitchn, where it caught my eye. I was fresh out of my first night of  French cooking classes, and but 6 words into the recipe's description was a new word I had learned only that night. I looked at the word and felt such pride in myself. Mirapoix! I know what that is! How sophisticated it sounds; how french!

There was yet another draw to this recipe for me, besides its french name, simple ingredient list, and use of the word "mirapoix" in the description: this was likely to be a dirt cheap meal. And I am the kind of girl who really appreciates a cheap meal. Does that sound bad? Well, it's true. My trip to the grocery store for the ingredients for this meal totaled at $6 (at Whole Foods, even!). I will likely be eating this for lunch for a week. Time to pat myself on the back for being so frugal.

I made a few changes to the recipe as I cooked. First, though leeks may just be my favorite vegetable, I replaced them with onions to keep my costs low.  I prefer to cook instinctively: taste and add and taste and add, rather than actually sticking to a recipe. In this way I ended up adding butter, a couple tablespoons of red wine, rosemary, and chicken stock (oops, no longer vegetarian! oh well.). I made the bread crumbs using 2 types of bread I had on hand: 7 grain sandwich bread, and some of the spinach-herb bread I made earlier in the week.

What comfort food this is, a hot garlicky stew with tender cooked onion, carrot and celery (that's the mirapoix, by the way) fresh and dried herbs and white beans. It is filling and hearty, yet gives a person the distinct feeling that they are eating something healthful and nutritious. My final product used quite a lot of butter, so I knew that the sense of healthfulness from the vegetables and white beans was certainly a  ruse (not to be confused with a roux, if we are talking basics of french cooking).

Meatless* Cassoulet
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine's Vegetarian Cassoulet, from the March 2008 Issue

Ingredients for the Cassoulet:

1 enormous onion (truly, it was huge. I would call it 1.5 medium/large onions)
4 medium carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
4 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, chopped
olive oil and/or butter as needed
2 TBS dry red wine
3 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried marjoram
1  bay leaf
3  cans cannellini  beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups chicken broth
Salt & Pepper to taste
Ingredients for the breadcrumbs :
4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs 
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
*this was originally a vegan recipe- my additions of butter and chicken stock made it just what I wanted, but you can easily leave those items out. I did not add any meat/sausage which is traditional in a cassoulet, which is why I chose to call this dish "meatless" despite containing one meat derived product: chicken stock. The described herein is *not* vegetarian.


First prepare the bread crumbs. I made mine using the same method demonstrated by the chef who taught the gluten free cooking workshop I attended. Here, I replicated that process, but used ordinary glutenous bread, and also infused the olive oil with a few cloves of garlic first.
  1. Cut your bread slices into 1 inch squares  and lay out evenly over a baking sheet.
  2. Heat in a hot oven for 15 minutes, or until they begin to get dried out and golden on the edges.
  3. pulse roughly in a food processor and combine with a tablespoon or so of olive oil (infused, as I mentioned above) herbs of your choice, and salt and pepper. I also added melted butter, but in the end did not think this was necessary. I admit it... I went a bit butter-crazy (not to be confused with Buttersafe).
  4. Return to the baking sheet, and heat again in the oven for 15 more minutes, until crisp
Meanwhile, begin to make the cassoulet:
  1. Dice the onions, carrots, celery and garlic.
  2. Heat 1 TBS butter in a large heavy bottomed pan
  3. Add in the onions, cook until translucent
  4. Add the garlic, carrots and celery, cook about 10 minutes before adding Bay leaf and other herbs
  5. Continue to cook the mirapoix (!!) until carrots are just barely soft.
  6. Add red wine if you wish (I also added more butter...)
  7. Add the beans and stock 
  8. Season to taste
  9. Cook until carrots are cooked through
  10. Top with breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil and serve

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