January 20, 2011

Before you get the cassoulet recipe you get a little history lesson. Did you know that “according to legend, cassoulet was invented during the Hundred Year War (1377 to 1453) when the fortress town of Castelnaudary in Southwestern France was besieged by the British and the locals were reduced to near starvation. Out of this hunger and desperation, Cassoulet was born from the meager dried beans, sausage and preserved poultry supplies on hand. Cassoulet was named for the cassole, the primitive earthenware pot in which the cassoulet is cooked. The two are inextricably linked, as its distinctive shape, slanted narrow at the base and wide at its mouth maximizes the beans’ exposure to the oven’s heat, forming the true cassoulet’s signature crust.” If you want to read more, click here.

So fast forward 600 years and alas near starvation is not imminent and the sausage and poultry supplies not abundant. But the taste buds are craving a hearty French dish and I’m curious as I’ve heard the cassoulet has garnered a sort of cult status among the culinary cognoscenti. What to do? Veganize it of course. Julia Child would be horrified, as would be the good people of Castelnaudary. But oh well. Can’t worry about that.

2 cups haricot (or navy) beans, cooked

2 cups assorted vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, fennel, celery, onions, sweet peppers, zucchini, parsnips), roasted

olive oil

2 cloves garlic

sprigs of thyme, rosemary or other herbs of choice

4 or 5 sun-dried tomatoes

can of tomato sauce

1.5 cups bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic


salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans overnight and discard the water. Simmer soaked beans slowly in fresh unsalted water until done. Drain them and save the liquid.

Peel vegetables if necessary and cut into bite size chunks. Spread them out in a single layer on a roasting pan, or cookie sheet. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat lightly, and stir them up with a little salt and pepper. Add a few peeled and split garlic cloves and herbs to taste (a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary and a bay leaf or two). Roast vegetables at 350 degrees;  longer-cooking vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, fennel, celery, and onions can be roasted together; slower-cooking vegetables like zucchini, red peppers, and parsnips can be added slightly later in the roasting process.

Soak sun-dried tomatoes in freshly boiled water for a few minutes until soft. Drain, saving the water, and chop coarsely.

Then prepare the stock. In a large saucepan heat 2 cups or so of the bean water and sun dried tomato water, together with a can of tomatoes or a small bottle of tomato concentrate, a generous quantity of mashed roasted garlic, a hearty glug of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and break up the solid bits with a potato masher. Boil vigorously for a couple of minutes to emulsify.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan over medium heat, sauté the garlic and parsley in olive oil until tender and fragrant. Add bread crumbs and cook stirring until crunchy and browned.

Mix all the cooked vegetables together with the sun-dried tomato. Put a layer of beans into your cassole (or whatever you choose to cook it in), then all the roasted vegetables, and finish off with the rest of the beans. Add the hot stock carefully, allowing it to settle as you pour. Top up if necessary with more of the bean cooking water, stopping when the level is about a half-inch below the surface of the beans.

Finally, cover the top with a good layer of bread crumb mixture. Drizzle with olive oil and bake the pot in a hot oven until the crust is brown and crisp. The ingredients are already cooked, so you are only combining their flavors. Of course if you make this the day before you plan on serving it, the flavours have more time to get acquainted.