when composing holiday meals the pull toward the picturesque and poetic is irresistible. Acknowledging i always feel their pull rather strongly. Yet nothing haute or too bizarre is wanted; homey, delicious, hearty something that fills the whole house with yummy fug* as it cooks. So the big red pan wanted a casserole. Saying it in French feels festive so a cassoulet.
be undaunted, Muffins! Cassoulet may be known as one of Julia Child’s most fearsome dishes (the NYT lists it among her 3 most elaborate recipes), but Monsieur Diat is more like – ain’t no big thing. He explains, “It is kind of bean stew. Garlic is essential…”
its countryside peasant roots promise it can be simple if you let it be and inclined toward adapting to whatever you have on hand. The stand-offish ingredient is confit of something, often duck (de canard). To confit is to salt cure a piece of meat then poach it in its own fat. Madame Child will march you through that process if you like along with her 22 ingredients for casserole, and butchers can hand over a block of the stuff. Although we went to an awesome butcher (see the facebook notes for a snapshot of Paisanos), we skipped the confit altogether, and instead went for a whole chicken cut up into pieces and chicken sausage with apples and congac. Sausage is signature, but chicken is unorthodox. Goose, duck, pork and lamb are the more likely candidates. I image, however, in some little French kitchen some lovely cook has assembled just such a chicken cassoulet. Also Mark Bittman says that with cassoulet, “liberties should not be viewed as inadequacies.”
some writers also cite the “many steps” as difficulty, but the process is quite simple: soak & cook beans, chop a bunch of veggies, sauté things in order, beginning with your meat, then throw it all in the oven to finish.
soak and cook white beans; in this instance, flagolet, though cannellini beans or the like are also charming. We cooked the wee things with fresh bay leaf, rosemary stalks and plenty of sea salt.
rub the chicken with butter that has been run through a food processor with herbes de provence and fresh rosemary needles, salt and pepper. Sauté the pieces in a giant hot pan with a bit of olive oil and branches of fresh rosemary and thyme. Set aside. Slice and sauté the sausage; set aside with the chicken.
heat the oven to 375°. Chop one onion, a few carrots, and a few stalks of celery. Peel and smash the cloves of a fist of garlic. Sauté the onion then add the celery then the carrot then the garlic. Toss in the cooked white beans, about 4 or 5 cups, and stir to mix. Scoop out a generous cup. Lay in the chicken pieces and sausage over the beans, surrounding with the reserved beans. Pour over some booze; we used champagne. White wine or vermouth will work.
blanket the lot with about a cup of breadcrumbs combined with ½ cup of crushed walnuts, a bit of herbes de provence, salt and pepper. Dot the top with butter and bake about 10 minutes or until the top browns. I finished it with about 3 minutes under the broiler.
satisfying to heave a heavy pan of delicousness out of the oven to serve to mom and thrifty wanderlust, who made the jam sandwiches for the trifle.
trifle is just assembly since we did not bake cake. Store bought panetone, a bready fruited Italian Christmas cake, served as our base. We cut thin slices and made sandwiches raspberry and kumquat jam then cut them into cubes. The cake is layered with fruit and fresh whipped cream topped with pistachios and glitter.
for the fruit, we broiled peach halves and pink orange segments coated in turbinado sugar and lemon and soaked bits of dried apricot in brandy.