Thursday, February 17, 2011

Apres Ski Cassoulet

A very simple version with smoked turkey thighs and frozen artichokes hearts.
It’s hearty, it’s elegant, it’s pure comfort food on a cold night.  And really, it’s just pork and beans at its best. This version combines a veggie version with a meat version so you get the most rich meal possible.  The recipe is forgiving because the must-haves list is short and the variations allow you to use what you have and what you like.  A crusty loaf of bread, a green salad and a hearty red wine keep things simple yet complete.  Bon appetit!

Cassoulet, the Easy Way

Serves 4, recipe may be doubled
Determine the meats you use by family preference. Provide a sampling of everything to amount to 1/4-1/3 pound meat per person (meat will cook down a bit) plus a cup+ of beans and vegetables.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 crushed garlic clove
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cans low-sodium white beans, drained
1 can chicken broth 1 teaspoon dried thyme (1 tablespoon fresh)
4-6 sun-dried tomatoes chopped (1/2 can tomatoes with  juice)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt (less if using regular rather than low-sodium beans)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 smoked turkey thighs or ham hocks (turkey preferred since it yields more meat, but your choice)
High quality pork sausage (chicken varieties can be substituted, try something new but not breakfast sausage)
Any of the following: thin pork chops (loin or shoulder, bone-in), duck confit, cooked ham chunks or slabs of pancetta, chicken (boneless, skinless chicken breast can be added part way through cooking if you have some picky eaters.)
Vegetable add-ins:
2 medium zucchini, sliced
1 can or package frozen artichoke hearts
1 cup green beans, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced

In a large heavy bottomed pot with cover, sauté the celery and onion in olive oil then add garlic and stir briefly to release oils, being careful not to burn.  Lower heat and add beans, broth, tomatoes and seasoning. Nestle remaining ingredients (meats and vegetables) into beans and cover pot. Let simmer on medium-low temperature until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. 
This is a good slow cooker meal.  Set it up before you hit the slopes and enjoy après ski.  It will stew for up to 8 hours on low or 4-6 on high. Place onion, celery, carrots and green beans on the bottom of the pot if using a slow cooker.

Bonus Meals: Leftover cassoulet can be turned into soup for lunch the next day.  Remove any leftover meat and chop into bite-sized pieces.  Puree a few ladlefuls of the remaining cassoulet and return to pot with cubed meat. Add additional broth- enough to make it the consistency of soup.  It also makes a great bean dip, once meat is removed.  Just cook down the remaining beans and vegetables until almost all liquid is absorbed then puree.  Taste and adjust for seasoning. A nice blend-in is soft goat cheese to give the dip some body. You may want to add salt, pepper or crushed garlic also.  Serve as an appetizer with sliced vegetables and warm chunks of bread or crackers.