Monday, October 17, 2011

Baked Autumn Cassoulet

Voila! Autumn Cassoulet!
A cassoulet is a typical French stew traditionally made with sausage, flageolet beans, and bouquet garni. It is delicious, hearty and warming, but not always accessible. Flageolet beans can be hard to find and some people don't go for greasy sausage or sausage at all. I have a favorite vegan version of a cassoulet where I have replaced the butter with olive oil added veggies, and tried to duplicate the sausage's essence without actually adding sausage (or sometimes worse,  vegetarian soy sausage). As with most vegetarian versions of things, I usually try to modify seasoning and texture of a dish to come close to it's meaty counterpart without adding the processed stuff. I'm not ripping up all veggie meats. Some are healthy and tasty and definitely have their time and place. For something with so many great ingredients, though, there really is no reason to use it here.

In garden season, I like to take these really simple ingredients and stew them together slowly all afternoon. Then I pop them in the oven about 30 minutes before dinner and have a great French (inspired) meal. Since it is no longer the season for these veggies to be at their peak, but the winter squashes are pouring in all over, I thought I would incorporate a diced butternut squash into the mix and modify the seasonings a teeny tiny bit to give my autumn cassoulet a hint of spice to showcase the squash. If you think you will miss having sausage in it, add some chicken and apple sausage with chardonnay or some such thing. . .I have used the one just mentioned, but can't remember the brand. Aidell's? Al Fresco? Find a sweet and sage-y autumnal variety, brown it, slice it, and pop it in to stew.

Cook it all slowly till the flavors come together.

Autumn Cassoulet

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced shallots
1 cup sliced celery with tops
1 t finely minced garlic
1 cup diced green pepper
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 bay leaves
1/2 t dried sage
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t dried rosemary
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t smoked paprika
1/4-1/2 t sea salt
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 can crushed tomatoes
3 cups cooked flageolet beans or navy beans (or approx 2 cans, rinsed)

Warm oil in a cassoulet pan (or medium pot). Add shallots, celery, garlic, pepper, and squash. Cook over medium until everything begins to get fragrant. If you are using sausage, slice it up and throw it in now and let it brown before you continue.

Add herbs, spices (omit smoked paprika if using sausage),  sea salt, and pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes, then add fresh and canned tomatoes. Stir to incorporate everything and add drained beans. Stir again and bring the heat up to a rapid simmer/almost a boil to get it hot, then lower to medium-low and set it on the back burner for an hour or so. If you would like to let it go longer, check it for liquid and add a little water or stock (you should maybe do this anyway so it doesn't dry out. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Taste for seasoning after you are happy with it and pop it in the oven for 20-30 minutes. This part is optional, but I think it really adds something to the finished product.

Serve as an entree with crusty baguette or as a veggie side.**

**a great potluck dish!
**freezes well

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