Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Make Bittman: Cassoulet

I have a soft spot for the stew-y, rustic foods of Italy and France (sorry Spain--but paella? ew). There's something very comforting about these foods, though, believe me, it has nothing to do with childhood memories (we ate mostly Mexican food at my house...don't ask). I was excited to see, then, a recipe from Mark Bittman for cassoulet--a rustic dish with beans and meat and veggies--that didn't require the purchase of 800 kinds of meat. This is a economic crisis, people, and I am lazy and had already gone to the butcher once that weekend. In any event, here is my report on how my attempt at making it went.

First up, here's the original recipe.

Ignore the part about helping kids. I didn't do any of that.

I used just a pound of sweet Italian sausage since I don't have duck confit sitting around, leeks not onions, garlic, carrots, celery (though now I have a ton left over...grr), zucchinis not cabbage, a can of crushed tomatoes (I can never find chopped for some reason), parsley, thyme, bay leaves, canned cannelloni beans (I am not yet converted to this "cook your own beans" thing), some wine and stock, red pepper flakes and ground red pepper (I didn't have cayenne for some reason--shocking).

Here are all my ingredients in a pile:

Ok step one was to brown the meat, which I started to do, realized that they would probably stick to the pot if there wasn't some fat in it, added olive oil, and then smoke went everywhere. Of course. Good thing my roommates and I took all the smoke detectors down for just this reason. Always practice fire safety! Anyway, the sausages were nice and brown and the air was nice and smoky so I took them out and laid them aside. Then I added butter to the pan, just for fun.

Ok so I chopped everything up, exhibiting some wicked Jacques Pepin knife skills which you can't tell from this, but I swear it took all of a minute to do.

Then I threw everything in the pan and added more olive oil, salt and pepper, and stirred it for a while, added the parsley, thyme and tomatoes...and eventually the bay leaves once I remembered them. Whoops. I added the beans and sausages and set it to boiling. You can tell I'm kind of making a mess.

So, I guess I was supposed to add broth or wine or something at some wasn't entirely clear...I just kinda added some wine and stock when things started to look a little thick. Not too much wine though since I wanted some for me. Then, I took out the sausages and the bay leaves, which took a while because one of the bay leaves was hiding from me even though it was the size of my head. I chopped the sausage into bite-size pieces and proceeded to try and give this thing some heat. Well, after all of the ground red pepper I had left AND a good douse of red pepper flakes went in and it STILL wasn't spicy, I just gave up and realized I should have just bought some freakin' cayenne. Whatever. So here it is! I even made it pretty for it's close-up and used my real camera:

Incredibly, this somehow only took me an hour to make. I have no idea how since I usually add another 45 minutes to whatever cooking time is given (40 mins here) for wandering around and getting distracted by various things.

Verdict: Success with a few caveats that are entirely my fault. 1) Do make the effort to get a variety of meats. Don't feel too embarrassed to buy one pork chop from the cute butcher guy. 2) Buy cayenne. 3) Sausages don't really need olive oil poured on them to brown up. I'm just crazy.

1 comment:

Drifty Leftwright said...

1. Bittman's recipe is more than a bit vague on one or two points, without good reason. There is no merit in obscurity, not even for "Ha! Taught you to look inside/outside yourself, didn't I?" purposes. Good cooking like any skill starts with knowledge, and leaving anything out or stuffing the wrong thing in is counterproductive.

2. Cassoulet works just as well as a one meat or no meat recipe- take that from an omnivore. Side note, within one's taste there is no limit to the vegetables that could belong to a cassoulet. Okra and oranges could be quite at home together in a stew like this. And I do not like okra- period.

3.My first several cassoulets were less than delightful, mainly for following the seasoning guides too closely. Tastes vary, of course, but beyond a 1/16 teaspoon of salt/pepper/other per 1.5 pounds of raw food, I don't call that food at all. More like torture.

On the other hand, my family and friends say I would make a model prisoner- partly because I belong in prison and partly because I can take my food so bland (add it in the serving, I always say) that you would have to employ a tracking hound to find the flavor.