Friday, February 19, 2010

How Sad is That?

Cassoulet is a classic French peasant dish, and although correctly made using the best ingredients, we can make a passable version using 'cheapies' thus making an inexpensive meal to serve a family. Ideally use good sausages (Toulouse is traditional) but a herby flavoured cheaper one would make a reasonable substitute. By soaking and cooking our own dried beans cuts costs, but any canned white bean (and these are not expensive) saves time.
Bacon offcuts are perfect for a dish such as this, and the more fat they have on the better. if you can get smoked offcuts, these give even more flavour.
It goes without saying we use should home-made chicken stock, but a chicken or ham stock cube is another alternative. Use the end crust from a loaf of bread to make the crumbs, and a little oil or marg if you haven't butter. The remaining ingredients am hoping you have in your larder.

Cheapsticks Cassoulet: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter or oil
8 Cumberland sausages (or similar flavour)
1 large onion, cut into wedges
equivalent of 6 smoked rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 tsp paprika pepper (pref smoked paprika)
1 x 410g (14oz) can cannellini or butter beans
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
7 fl oz (200ml) hot chicken or ham stock
half tsp dried oregano or marjoram (or mixed herbs)
1 tblsp tomato puree or tomato ketchup
salt and pepper
4 - 5 tbslp fresh breadcrumbs
1 oz (25g) butter (or marg) melted,
Starting with the ingredients at the top of the list, first melt the butter/oil in a frying pan and in this fry the sausages until browned all over (they do not have to cook all the way through), then remove and put into an ovenproof casserole dish.
Add the prepared onions and bacon to the frying pan and cook for 5 minute, then sprinkle in the paprika and cook for a further minute before stirring in the beans, tomatoes;;;;, stoke, herbs and tomato puree/ketchup. Season to taste, then pour this over the sausages in the casserole dish.
Cover and bake for half an hour at 180C, 350F, gas 4, then mix together the breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle this on top of the mixture in the casserole dish. then bake on, uncovered for a further half hour, until the topping is crisp and golden. Serve hot with green vegetables or a crisp cool salad.

There is a story (believed true - and it was in France) where a Cassoulet was kept cooking for days and days in a large pot over an open fire . Could even be years. As the food was served, more ingredients would be put into the pot (ham hock, chicken portions, sausages, and more tomatoes, stock and the rest. Extra crumb would be put on top, and crisped with some heat source (possibly a salamander), once the crumbs were crisped, they were stirred into the casserole and more crumbs put on top and crisped up (this double crust also works with the recipe given today).
After overnight cooking (the cauldron being the peasant version of our slow-cooker no doubt) the added 'fresh' meats would then be cooked, previous meat still in the pot would be meltingly tender and dissolved into the stock, and so it went on, improving texture and flavour as the days (years!) went by.

With the Italian meal eaten yesterday evening still fixed firmly in my mind, am ending today with a version of Gino D'Acampo's favourite soup, his recipe appearing in several of his books (his latest being The I(talian) Diet (£12.99 - on offered at £9.99) and Gino's Italian recipes sound a lovely way to lose weight.
This soup is easily made by ingredients that many of us keep in our larders, and although Gino uses (obviously) pancetta, but being my English version have substituted streaky bacon. Not that I have found much difference between the two, other than pancetta seems to be is sold in packs already chopped, bacon rashers we have to chop ourselves.
Gino's Onion and 'Bacon' Soup: serves 4
4 oz (100g) rindless streaky bacon rashers diced
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb 9 oz (700g) white onions, thinly sliced
2 pints (1.3ltrs) chicken stock
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 - 6 fresh basil leaves, torn not cut with a knife
4 tbslp grated Parmesan cheese.
Put the bacon into a saucepan over medium heat and stir/cook for 2 minutes until sizzling. Add the oil and and onions, stirring all together, then lower the heat and cookd for 20 minutes , stirring from time to time, until the onions are deeply golden, but not caramelised.
Then add the chicken stock and the canned tomatoes, with seasoning to taste. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer, half cover the pan and cook for a further 30 minutes again stirring occasionally.
After 20 minutes, check the consistency, and add more stock if desired, then just before serving, stir in the basil leaves, check if more seasoning is needed, and serve hot with the Parmesan sprinkle over.