Vegetarian Cassoulet

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

While a cassoulet isn’t totally new to me, I was pretty shocked to see the sheer amount of work that goes into a traditional cassoulet recipe. A traditional cassoulet recipe will typically contain pork, sausages, and white beans as well as a duck or goose confit and a nice topping of fried bread crumbs or cracklings and – get this – can take up to three days to prepare! I have made a couple of “cassoulets” in my day, but they have been nowhere near as labor intensive as this – I’m talking 30 minutes to prepare tops!

A confit on the other hand, was totally new to me. I have seen the term on menus, but never actually really knew what it was. Turns out it’s actually one of the oldest ways to preserve food. A confit is basically any kind of food that has been immersed in any kind of fat for both flavor and preservation. When stored in a cool place, confit can last for several months. Typically meats (most often waterfowl) are preserved in fats, while fruits are preserved in sugar.

For this challenge we had to make a confit and incorporate it into a cassoulet. We could choose any combination of meat or protein source that we wished, and we were encouraged to soak our own beans. There was an added challenge to make our own sausages as well. Three cassoulet recipes were provided: a traditional recipe, a vegetarian recipe, and a quick 30-minute cassoulet recipe. There were also various meat and vegetable confit recipes provided. I opted for the vegetarian cassoulet recipe along with a provided recipe for garlic confit.

The garlic confit came together rather easily. Most of it is really down time while it cooks in the oven. I only did half a recipe though – I couldn’t imagine having 65 garlic cloves sitting around in my fridge! I wasn’t really sure how to incorporate the confit into the cassoulet, so I just used it anywhere the recipe called for garlic or olive oil.

Since the challenge had been thrown out there to make our own sausages I decided I would also try to make the seitan sausage recipe that had been provided as part of December’s poaching challenge. I have only made seitan once before, and that was a baked recipe, so I was looking forward to trying out this method of poached seitan. It was certainly a bit of a process and where the bulk of my time was spent in this recipe. My sausage shaping skills are definitely lacking, and sadly they were no replacement for those tasty Field Roast sausages. In fact, they were rather bland. My husband and I both felt like they could’ve benefited from the addition of a little more salt and that might reflect a poor choice on my part in using a low sodium broth for my poaching liquid.

I also feel like my cassoulet was a little less than stellar. I’m not sure where I went wrong here because everyone had been saying great things about this recipe. Admittedly, I did have to replace the leeks in the cassoulet with onions because the two places I shop were out of the leeks that were called for, but I’m not sure if that would’ve made that much of a difference as far as flavor. Maybe it was a bad choice to use the garlic confit in place of the raw garlic in the recipe? Despite its drawbacks, I did like how the cassoulet recipe called for mashing a portion of the beans for a thicker broth; I really enjoyed that thicker consistency of this cassoulet from previous ones that I had made.

You can view all of the recipes used after the jump.

Garlic Confit
Garlic Confit from Saveur, Issue #129
Ingredients:
1½ cup (360 ml) Olive Oil
1½ tsp (7½ ml) (4 gm) kosher salt (**Note: if using table salt, use ½ the amount)
10 whole black peppercorns
5 sprigs fresh thyme
65 garlic cloves, peeled (about 1 ½ cups/360 ml)
1 dried bay leaf
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to slow 300°F/150°C/gas mark 2. Put ingredients in a 1 quart (950 ml) pot, making sure all the garlic is submerged in the oil. Cover pot. Bake until garlic is golden brown and tender, about 1 hour. Let cool.
2. Transfer mixture to a glass jar; cover surface of oil with plastic wrap. Cover jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes 2 cups/480 ml.

Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages
from Veggie num num
Makes 8 sausages [I halved this recipe for the cassoulet]

Ingredients
¼ cup (60ml/150 g/5.3 oz.) pine nuts, toasted
½ a red onion (I used a full onion)
1 red chili (I used a ripe jalapeño from my garden)
1 cup (240 ml/75 g/2-2/3 oz.) whole sundried tomatoes
¼ cup (60 ml/2 fl. oz.) olive oil
1¼ cups (300 ml/10 fl. oz.) vegetable stock
2 Tbl. (30 ml/30 g) tomato paste
2½ cups (600 ml/250 g/½ lb.) vital wheat gluten (gluten flour)
1 tsp. (5ml/4 g) dried thyme
1 tsp. (5ml/4 g) paprika

For the poaching liquid:
6+ cups (1.5+ L/51+ fl. oz.) vegetable stock
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves

Additional notes:
• Cheesecloth can be found at most major grocery stores, hardware stores, and home stores. If you don’t have and can’t find cheesecloth, you could use any thin, clean (undyed and untreated) permeable cloth, gauze, cotton flour sack towel, coffee filters (for smaller sausages), or maybe even clean socks you don’t care about staining.
• Vital wheat gluten can be purchased online from Amazon, or you can try making it yourself from whole wheat flour (see additional information).

Directions:

1. Place 6 cups of stock, the crushed garlic cloves, and the bay leaves in a deep sauté pan or stock pot (you may need to add additional stock to cover the sausages). Heat on medium.

2. Toast the pine nuts.

3. Finely mince the pine nuts, red onion, chili, and sundried tomatoes (a food processor works well here).

4. Whisk the 1¼ cups of stock with the tomato paste and olive oil in a small bowl.

5. Combine the vital wheat gluten with the dried thyme (I left this out because I didn’t have any!), paprika, and pine nut/onion/chili/sundried tomato mixture.

6. Slowly add the stock/olive oil/tomato paste to the vital wheat gluten. Mix until you have a smooth dough. You will probably not need to add all the liquid. I added maybe ¾ of the liquid and the result was a rather wet dough. Whatever liquid you have left can be added to the poaching liquid.

7. Divide the dough into four portions. Each quarter will make a sausage about 10 inches (25 cm) long. You have a couple of shaping options here. You can make four 10 inch (25 cm) sausages, or 8 smaller ones. I made 10 inch sausages, tied off both ends, then twisted the middle to form two sausage links. This made each side a little tighter, and made it easier to fit them in my pot. Any way you choose, make sure you wrap each section tightly in the cheesecloth and tie off the ends with twine. Keep in mind, also, that the seitan will swell a little as it cooks, so the sausages will become fatter.

8. If the poaching liquid is not yet boiling, turn up the heat until it does. Add the sausages and turn the heat down to a simmer. Simmer gently for 45–50 minutes, or until the sausages are firm.

9. Remove the sausages from the poaching liquid (reserve the liquid if you don’t plan on eating all the sausages immediately). Allow the sausages to cool a little and gently unwrap. These may be refrigerated in their poaching liquid for a week.

Vegetarian/Vegan Cassoulet
adapted from Vegetarian Cassoulet by Gourmet Magazine, March 2008
Serves 4 to 6
Start to finish:1 1/4 hr

For cassoulet
4 seitan sausages, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 ½ cups yellow onion
4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
4 garlic cloves, chopped [I used the garlic confit here]
2T (60 ml) olive oil, divided
4 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon (2/3 ml) (1 gm) ground cloves
3 (19-oz/540 gm) cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 qt (4 cups/960 ml) water

For garlic crumbs
4 cups panko [I used 2 cups and found this was more than enough]
1-2T olive oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (12 gm) chopped garlic [again used the garlic confit here]
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Make cassoulet:
1. Cook sausages in 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat until browned on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Cook onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in oil with herb sprigs, bay leaf, cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in beans, then water, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes. Add the sausages in the last 10 minutes or so of cooking so they will be heated through.

Make garlic crumbs while cassoulet simmers:
3. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with rack in middle.
4. Toss bread crumbs with oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon (1¼ ml) each of salt and pepper in a bowl until well coated.
5. Spread in a baking pan and toast in oven, stirring once halfway through, until crisp and golden, 12 to 15 minutes.
6. Cool crumbs in pan, then return to bowl and stir in parsley.

Finish cassoulet:
7. Discard herb sprigs and bay leaf. Mash some of beans in pot with a potato masher or back of a spoon to thicken broth.
8. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with garlic crumbs.

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