Finally, A Cassoulet
A few weeks ago it started raining … and it never stopped. In fact it’s raining right now. At first it was quite refreshing, good for all things green and growing. But now even the plants have had enough. “Please stop, we can’t take it anymore” they’re saying. Like a drunk man at an English wedding, the free bar seemed wonderful at first, but now the night isn’t young anymore and it’s time to go home. Except the barman doesn’t know that and he keeps pouring (I’ve been to a wedding like that by the way). For us this eternal deluge means wet dogs, dirty floors, restless kids and daily fires. We, true to form, didn’t plan ahead so all the wood got soaked and every fire is a small challenge. How have we survived these wet, chilly and dark days? Well, like always food has been our saviour. First in the form of savory dishes like blanquette de veau and garbure, then the team from Canal+ arrived and we made six fabulous desserts a day for my new show “Les desserts de Mimi” (we shot 10 whole episodes) – believe me the kids did not mind all that sweetness, if there ever was a cure for rain. The crew found the rain slightly challenging. At first it was a bit exciting, filming the soaked lawns, the raindrops, me walking in the forest in my wellies. But then it got a bit repetitive. Me walking with the kids … in the rain. Me climbing the stairs of a lighthouse … in the rain. They needed a diversion, and found it in the most unlikely place. In the form of my husband singing on French television of all places. This is a man who is so poor at singing that he mimes the words when it’s time to sing happy birthday for the kids. Not a singer but a good sport. Oh what the rain does to us.
When they left the sun came out for a few hours and I thought, how typical, now you shine on us “old devil sun” but that wasn’t to be either. Defiantly the skies closed above me and it started to pour again. On Saturday we took a messy drive with all the kids. Yes you guessed right, it was raining. We had a lovely time though, although our clothes (and my hair) paid a price. The silver lining to all this rain is that it’s really quite beautiful to look at the land soaked in water. Where there were green pastures we now have spectacular grey-blue mirrors of water, endless reflections of trees looking down on themselves. Walking over a meadow covered in water is quite lovely. Sometimes.
There was a moment when my adventurous husband, my eager son and keen daughter had wandered off and I was left with my two little girls and a dog called Squiffy. I looked down at my feet (or what I could see of them) and for some reason that I can’t explain I just needed to make cassoulet. On the way home I wondered how weird it is that almost two years ago I started Manger and in all this time I haven’t done a cassoulet. I think I’ve made every other great French classic, either for the blog or my book. But cassoulet got left behind and now was the time to put it right. My family is from the Toulouse region, the home of cassoulet, and it’s followed me all my days, it was there for me when I was a child in my grandmother’s kitchen and later when I studied in Paris, a good comforting cassoulet was only a restaurant away. My husband and my father love it and though it’s not my favorite dish of all, sometimes I just have to have it. It’s a once or twice a year thing. Last Saturday was such a night, except I had to wait until Sunday, when our butcher, Mr Manenti, was open, it’s a dish that takes time to make.
When your star performer is a robust cassoulet, filled with meats and vegetables and really so over the top that nobody can ever finish their portion, how do you open the meal? My answer, with more opulence, just throw the diet book out the window and have a cheese soufflé, made with the most decadent Cantal cheese. For dessert I was thinking “pain perdu with plums” a big favorite, slightly acidic and so very tasty. But it was the Chandeleur (Candlemas) and it means you have to have crêpes or something traditional. Since we had those for breakfast we opted for the navettes instead. It’s what they have instead of crêpes in Marseille.
Which makes me think of Bouillabaisse and … oh dear, here we go again.
Cantal Cheese soufflé
This soufflé is light, airy and a lovely starter for any meal. It’s also an ideal lunch served with a salad with vinaigrette on the side.
4 eggs, separated
150 g/ 1 & 2/3 Cantal or Gruyère cheese, grated
60 g/ ¼ cup unsalted butter
60 g/ ½ cup plain flour
400 ml/ 1 &2/3 cup milk
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon mustard
A pinch of fine salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 190°C/ 375 F
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter and gradually whisk in flour. Add milk, nutmeg, ½ teaspoon mustard and a dash of freshly ground pepper. Continue to stir and bring to a soft simmer, stirring for a few minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
When the mixture has cooled down, add the egg yolks, one by one, stirring constantly. Add half of the cheese
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites till stiff, adding a pinch of salt. Fold in gently to mixture, and sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese.
Pour the soufflé mixture into a large buttered ramekin (or individual ones) and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until well risen and golden brown. Serve immediately.
Cassoulet is a rustic bean and meat stew, originating from Toulouse, as well as the neighbouring Castelnaudary and Carcassonne, all of which claim to have the best version. It is usually cooked in a cassole, a deep earthenware dish. This recipe is inspired from my aunt’s and her best friends (who are all from Toulouse), and I love the tomato flavours mixed with the beans – I don’t like a cassoulet to be bland. A cassoulet should be moist but not too liquid, and I like the beans to be on the firmer side, so they won’t get squashed easily. It’s a simpler version than the 3 hours oven-baked one, which is perfect for me. For this recipe I used a large cocotte (dutch oven) instead of a cassole. It’s a beautiful dish!
700 g/ 1&1/2 pounds approx. white beans (dried, I used haricots Tarbais)
450 g/ 1 pound deboned lamb shoulder, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons goose fat
6 Toulouse-style sausages (or good-quality herbed pork sausages)
2 onions, peeled and sliced
5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
A few sprigs of parsley
450 g/ 1 pound canned chopped tomatoes, drained
1 peeled onion pricked with 8 clove sticks (see photo)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 bouquet garni
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground piment d’espelette
200 g/ 7 ounces pork bacon/ poitrine demi-sel
250 g pork shoulder steak
3 large duck confit legs
2 tablespoons tomato concentrate
300 g/ 2/3 pounds saucisson à l’ail (cooked garlic sausage)
160 g/ 1&1 ¾ cups breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soak the dried beans overnight in a large bowl of water (in 3 times their volume). Rinse and drain the beans the next day.
Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water. Add the chopped carrots, a teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon tomato concentrate, the bouquet garni, the onion pricked with cloves, the garlic sausage and the pork rind. Bring to a boil and lower heat, leaving to simmer for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour, until beans are cooked but not too soft.
Meanwhile, prepare the meat sauté. Heat 1 tablespoon goose fat in a deep-frying pan, add the lamb and brown the meat on all sides on a medium heat. Sprinkle with a few thyme leaves and add the piment d’espelette. add enough water just to barely cover the meat, bring to a boil on then lower heat. Season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. Set aside.
In another frying pan, brown the Toulouse sausages with 1 tablespoon goose fat on all sides and cook for 10 minutes. Set aside. In the same pan, pan-fry the pork shoulder steak until cooked and golden on both sides.
In a large cocotte or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of goose fat and sauté the onions and garlic. Retrieve the pork rind from the beans and chop it up into thick sticks, and add to the cocotte/dutch oven. Continue to cook for a few minutes, then add the drained beans, discarding the bouquet garni and the cloved onion. Reserve bean stock. Place the garlic sausage aside. Add the chopped tomatoes, nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of tomato concentrate and mix all the ingredients gently to avoid breaking the beans. Add enough lamb and beans stock, enough to just about cover the beans. Bring the cassoulet to a boil, then lower heat and continue to cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the duck legs in a pan until golden and reserve the duck fat rendered. Set aside.
Set the oven on the grill setting, place lamb, sausages, pork and duck legs on the beans. Slice some of the sausages and pork if desired. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of duck fat over the breadcrumbs, some chopped parsley and grill in the oven until crust is golden, between 5 to 8 minutes (depending on oven strength). Serve immediately.
Navettes de Saint Victor
Navettes are little biscuits that ressemble small boats, slightly crunchy and generally flavored with orange blossom water. They are originally from Marseille and are a traditionally eaten during la chandeleur (Candlemas). I love to dip them in my coffee for dessert.
500 g/ 4 cups + 3 tablespoons plain flour
250 g/ 1 & 1/4 cup granulated sugar
65 g/ ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
60 ml/ ¼ cup orange blossom water
Makes about 20 navettes.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, butter, lemon zest and add the eggs, one by one. Gradually add the orange blossom water, and mix well until you get a soft dough. Cover dough with a cloth and leave to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to 1.5 cm/ ½ inch thickness, sprinkling flour on dough if necessary.
Cut out 7-8 cm/ 3 inches length, 3-4 cm/ 1.5 inches width rectangles and press both ends (to make the shape of little boats). You can also roll them into little 1.5 inches thick tubes and press on both ends (as long as you shape them like little boats!). Place them on a baking tray covered with parchment paper, leaving a little space between them. With the help of a knife, slit them in the center. Leave to rest for an hour.
Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350 F for 15 to 20 minutes, until slightly golden and risen. If you prefer a deeper golden colour, brush each navettes with eggwash (egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of milk).