A Summer Cassoulet

A Summer Cassoulet

 

A traditional cassoulet is not a dish that springs to mind as summer arrives, but it is one of my favorite go to meals, especially when entertaining. With a few considered adjustments a classic winter cassoulet can be transformed into a scrumptious lighter  cassoulet to add to your summer meals repertoire.

Cassoulet is a well known and much loved regional classic stew made with white beans and assorted meats from the Languedoc region of France. Traditional versions vary but typically include duck or goose confit, pork or lamb, and some well seasoned local sausage. All placed in a deep earthenware crock along with cooked white beans seasoned with aromatic herbs and slow baked to golden perfection. Very much a rich hearty meal for the winter months that is anchored and bound together by flavors derived from copious amounts of duck fat used to preserve the confit. Without a doubt, absolutely delicious!

However, by using lean meats and sausages, and chicken rather than duck or goose, dramatically reduces the fat content without sacrificing flavor. The resulting “summer cassoulet” is every bit as flavorful as a classic cassoulet by simply applying a lighter healthier approach to your summer cookery.

Another reason a cassoulet is a favorite is that all the elements required for the finished dish are made in advance which is ideal for entertaining or for easy assembly for consecutive meals.

There are essentially three elements to prepare for a cassoulet. Cooking the beans, creating a flavorsome cassoulet broth for braising, and a final browning of the meats and finally baking of the cassoulet.

 

A Summer Cassoulet

A Summer Cassoulet

 

A Summer Cassoulet:   serves 4 to 6

For the beans:  Prepare a day in advance

  • 12 oz / 350 g dried white beans
  • 2 ¾ oz 75 g pancetta, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 quarts water + more as needed
  • small bunch fresh thyme sprigs tied together
  • salt freshly ground white pepper

Rinse the beans, place in a bowl, cover with plenty of water, and soak for 8 hours or overnight,

Place a stock pot on the stove over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta to the pot and saute, continuously stirring, until the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly browned.

Add the olive oil to the pan and when hot add the onions. Lower the heat slightly and stir until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute while stirring.

Add the bay leaves, the water, and the drained and rinsed  pre-soaked beans. Bring the water to a boil and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add the thyme leaves. Cook the beans until they are soft but still holding their shape. Be sure to stir the beans now and again so they do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add more water as needed until the beans are finished cooking.

When the beans are finished remove them using a slotted spoon and place them in a large storage container.

Continue to simmer the cooking liquid until it is reduced and thickened slightly. At this point season the cooking broth with salt and pepper to taste. Keep in mind that the broth will be used later and reduced, so do not overly salt the broth.

Remove the bay leaves and thyme and discard, Transfer the broth to the container holding the beans and set aside on a cooling rack. When completely cool, cover the container and refrigerate.

For the cassoulet broth:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups diced onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled whole
  • ½ cup diced peeled carrots
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 quarts chicken stock, hot
  • herb bouquet; sprigs parsley, sprigs thyme, sprig rosemary 2 bay leaves

Hat the olive oil in a stock pot and when hot add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and carrots and cook a couple of minutes. Move the sauted ingredients away from the center of the pan and place the tomato paste in the center. Press the tomato paste against the bottom of the pan for a minute or until caramelized and a deep red color.

Add the stock and stir well. Add the herb bouquet and adjust the heat so the broth is gently simmering. Cook until the liquid is reduced by 1/3, about 1 ½ hours.

Remove from the stove and strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Then transfer the broth to a storage container, or containers, and set aside to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate if not using immediately. Discard the solids.

Meats:

  • 3 chicken legs and thighs, detached, skin, on
  • 1 pound / 450 g pork loin, cut into chunks
  • 1 pound/ 450 g well seasoned lean sausage
  • salt pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup white wine or water

Season the chicken and the pork generously with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat a large dutch oven or deep wide cast iron roasting pan over medium heat on the stove top. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and when smoking add the chicken pieces and evenly brown on all sides. Transfer them to a platter and set aside.

Add another tablespoon olive oil to the pot and add the pork and brown on all side. Transfer to the platter along with the chicken.

Add a final tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and dd the sausage to the pan and brown on all sides. Add a half cup of wine or water to the pan and stir until the liquid is reduced and the sausage is coated with the deglazed pan juices. Transfer the sausage to a separate plate and set aside to use later.

Assembling and roasting the cassoulet:

  • reserved cooked white beans with their broth
  • cassoulet broth
  • browned chicken
  • browned pork
  • browned sausage
  • flat leaf parsley

preheat the oven to 325 f/ 170 c

Add about 1/2 of the cooked beans along with some of their broth to the cleaned Dutch oven or cast iron roasting pan you used previously. Arrange the chicken pieces and pork on top of the beans and add just enough cassoulet broth to nearly cover the chicken and pork.

Transfer the pan to the oven and cook about 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and add the remaining beans tucked in around the edges of the pan and between the chicken and pork. Then tuck in the sausage in around the chicken and the pork. Add any remaining beans around the edges. Add cassoulet broth to nearly cover all and return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.

At this point if the liquid around the edges of the pan is not bubbling away increase the heat to 400 f/ 200 c. Add a little broth over the meats and return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes.

When the cassoulet is done remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.

Combine and warm any remaining bean broth and cassoulet broth and set aside to use when serving.

Serving:

The cassoulet may be served directly from the pan or transferred to individual shallow bowls.

I like to present the cassoulet right out of the oven for all to feast their eyes on before serving.

You can then spoon the cassoulet into individual shallow bowls. Be sure to add some of the reserved combined broth mixture which is absolutely delicious when sopped up with crusty bread! Garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve.

The overall appearance of the cassoulet should be neither dry nor soupy. I lean toward ample amounts of broth as it really is the element that binds the cassoulet together.

Garnish with flat leaf parsley sprigs.

Suggested: Serve with a copious summer salad and a loaf of crusty bread!

Bon Appetite!

Summery Vegetable Soup with Chicken

Summery Vegetable Soup with Chicken

 

Early summer is a perfect time to utilize fresh from the garden produce for light soups that are as lively and colorful as they are delicious. Freshly made soups are ideal for easy summer meals that celebrate the season’s ever evolving bounty. A beautiful soup accompanied with a crusty loaf along with a freshly made pesto (see recipe here) is a perfect summer meal in and of itself!

 

Summery Vegetable Soup with Chicken       Serves 4

  • 2 ears sweet corn
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • handful of celery leaves
  • 1 cup diced onions, divided
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup celery diced
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
  •  sprig of Italian basil leaves, finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • whole basil leaves as a garnish

First thing you want to do is cut the corn kernels off of the cobs and set them aside to use later. Then holding the cobs vertically in a small bowl, scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to extract the corn milk and set the milk aside to use later. Reserve the scraped cobs.

Fill a large pot with 2 quarts of water and add the bay leaves, celery leaves, ½ cup diced onions, peppercorns, the scraped corn cobs, and the reserved corn milk scrapings. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the whole chicken breasts to the pot and simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and set the pot side, covered, for about 30 minutes. Then using tongs remove the chicken breasts and set them aside in a bowl to cool.

Remove the corn cobs from the pot and discard them. Then pour the contents of the pot into a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl. Press all the liquid out of the solids. Discard the solids and set the broth aside.

Rinse out the pot and return it to the stove top, add the olive oil, and set over a medium flame. When the oil is hot add the remaining half cup of onions, the diced yellow and red bell peppers, diced jalapeno, and saute until they soften about 5 minutes. Then add the carrots, celery, and potatoes, and continue to saute for another 5 minutes. Then add the reserved broth to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, but still holding their shape. Then add the reserved corn kernels.

Gently pull the chicken breasts apart and into bit size pieces and add to the both. Stir in the sliced basil and season to taste with salt. Add the saffron threads and stir to combine and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Just before serving stir in the lemon juice.

Serving

Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls and garnish with whole basil leaves and lemon slices.

With Cinco de Mayo fiestas well underway north and south of the Mexican border, it is Mexican food that is at the center of all the celebrations and, of course, Mexican beer and margaritas as well. So why not make a zesty margarita pie as a final flourish for the celebrations.

The recipe that follows mirrors a classic margarita made with freshly squeezed lime juice, a good silver/blanco tequila, triple sec, sugar or agave syrup, and crystallized flaked salt. These very same ingredients provide the essential flavors for a sensational chilled sweet sour margarita confection with just a hint of green earthiness from the tequila and a crisp salty after note.

Margarita Pie

Margarita Pie

As popular as a pretzel crust seems to be for a margarita pie these days, I have to say I favor a classic sweet pastry crust for this pie which allows the flavors of the margarita lime curd to take center stage. Served chilled, this pie is as bedazzling and refreshing as an icy margarita on the rocks would be on a hot summer evening in the tropics.

Margarita Pie

Margarita Pie

Margarita Pie

Needed: 1 10 inch pie dish

Crust:

  • sweet pastry dough
  • butter for brushing
  • crystallized salt

Use your favorite sweet pastry dough recipe and chill the dough for several hours before you intend to roll it out.

Roll out the dough and place it in the pie dish. Even out the edges. Transfer to the the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c

Melt a small amount of butter. Remove the chilled pie shell from the refrigerator and lightly brush the entire surface of the dough with melted butter.

Then evenly press salt flakes onto the outer rim of the dough.

Line the inner surface of the dough with baking parchment and trim off excess paper so the salt studded surface of the rim of the pie is exposed. Place pie wights (or dried beans) into the parchment lined pie dough and transfer to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the salted edges are lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and, using a spoon, remove the weights and set them aside to cool. Remove the parchment and return the pie shell to the oven and bake another 12 minutes, or until the interior crust is lightly colored and dry.

Remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature. You can then refrigerate the crust.

Margarita Pie Curd Filling

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons silver tequila
  • 1 tablespoon triple sec (or other orange liquer)
  • 3 oz chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Combine the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lime juice, tequila, and tipple sec in a non-reactive stainless bowl.
Gently whisk until the ingredients are well combined.

Place the bowl over a pot of hot, but not boiling, water and gently whisk continuously until the mixture thickens and mounds onto itself.

Promptly remove the bowl from the heat and scatter the butter over the surface. Stir with the whisk until the butter has completely melted and is mixed evenly into the curd.

Remove the chilled crust from the refrigerator and, using a silicone spatula, spoon the curd into the pie shell. Spread the curd evenly and return the pie to the refrigerator to chill.

Sour Cream Topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 200c

Combine the sour cream, sugar and lime juice in a bowl and stir until well combined.

Remove the chilled pie from the refrigerator and spoon the sour cream mixture over the surface of the lime curd. Giggle the pie to even out the surface and place in the oven and bake for or 5 minutes.

Promptly remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and return the pie to the refrigerator to chill.

Lime garnish:

  • 2 seedless thin skinned limes, sliced into paper thin rounds
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a wide saute pan. Cook until the liquid is bubbling, thick, and clear. Add the lime slices and cook for 3 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and let the lime slices rest in the syrup until completely cool. Remove the slices to a rack to drain off excess syrup.

Remove the pie from the refrigerator and carefully arrange the lime rounds over the surface of the pie.

Cover the pie with cling film and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Serving:

About 20 minutes before serving transfer the refrigerated pie to the freezer and chill for 15 to 20 minutes. This final chill gives this pie a crisp icy sensation when served. 

Slice using  a very sharp knife dipped into water for each slice made.

Thai Stir Fry with rum Marinated Pork loin and Chayote

Thai Stir Fry with rum Marinated Pork loin and Chayote

 

When the hot season, April- June, arrives in Thailand the last thing you want to do is spend much time in the kitchen. With temperatures tipping 40 c/ 104 f daily it is really HOT!

Being a hot country year round Thai cuisine has a unique hot weather appropriateness. Flash cooking fresh ingredients tossed together with assertive flavors and fiery spicy heat is what makes Thai cuisine so universally popular. The capsacin from fiery hot chiles stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain that instantly produces a sense of euphoria, while breaking into a sweat from the heat of chiles has a pleasant cooling effect as well. No wonder everyone loves Thai food!

The recipe that follows is a reinterpretation of a popular Thai stir fry dish; Kra Pao Moo (click here for recipe) . I have upped the ante in this recipe using a Thai rum marinated pork loin and included chayote to the stir fry that adds a fresh crisp element to the final dish.

Chayote

Chayote

Chayote originates from Central Mexico and widely used throughout Central and south America. Chayote was introduced to the old world during the Columbian exchange. From there it was transported through trade routes throughout Asia. Chayote is a member of the gourd family, and favored for its crisp texture and plentiful nutrients. The entire plant is eatable and often included in stir fried dishes throughout Asia. Seek it out! Widely available in Latin and Asian markets in North America as well.

 

Thai Stir Fry with Rum Marinated Pork Loin and Chayote    serves 4

To avoid the heat of the day during the hot season I like to marinate the pork in the morning and refrigerate it for the rest of the day. Prep all the other ingredients in the morning as well and refrigerate. That way the stir frying can be done very quickly in the evening without breaking a sweat!

Marinade:

  • 1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced and diced
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 3 kaffir/ makrut lime leaves
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup Thai Sang Som rum (or other dark rum)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound pork loin, silvery membrane removed and cut into 3 pieces
  • cold water to cover

Select a non reactive bowl just large enough to hold the pork loin and other ingredients. Place all the ingredients except the pork and water into the bowl and stir to combine. Then add the pork loin and, using your hands, massage the pork with the mixture until covered. Then add just enough water to cover all. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 8 hours.

Thai Red Chiles

Thai Red Chiles

Stir Fry:

  • marinated pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions across the grain
  • 2-4 teaspoons oil
    1 onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced and halved
  • 2 chayote, peeled, halved, pit removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, cut into thin strips and diced
  • 1-3 Thai red chiles, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and very thinly sliced and then diced
  • reserved marinade
  • ½ cup fresh Thai sweet basil leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce or to taste
  • stock or water
  • additional fish sauce to taste
  • fresh lime wedges

A steel Chinese wok is ideal for stir frying food very quickly over intense heat. For more information on cooking with a wok (click here)

Heat your wok over a gas burner or charcoal fire and add the oil. Swirl the pan to coat the surface and promptly add the pork medallions and stack them all the way up the sides of the wok. Sear briefly and then turn the pork and continue searing. Once lightly browned promptly remove the pork from the wok and set aside. Total cooking time 2 to 3 minutes max. Reserve the marinade to use later.

Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onions, garlic, and red bell peppers. Toss and stir fry until softened and lightly colored. Then add the chayote and toss to combine. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the jalapenos and Thai red chiles and toss until combined. Then add the reserved marinade and cook for a couple minutes. Taste the chayote. Ideally you want the chayote to retain a refreshing crispness that will compliment the otherwise deeply flavorful stir fry.

Add the basil leaves and toss to combine. Taste the broth and add additional oyster sauce and fish sauce to taste. If the broth has reduced quite a bit you can add a little stock or water.

Finally add the reserved pork and toss until just heated.

Serving:

Just before serving squeeze some lime juice into the stir fry, toss, and you are ready to serve.

Serve with Thai Jasmine rice or, my favorite, Thai Jasmine brown rice. Have a bowl of lime wedges set out on the table as well.

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