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: 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.
- 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.
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!
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.
Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls and garnish with whole basil leaves and lemon slices.
Buttermilk marinated chicken is an old classic from the American south which,to be honest, I’d mostly forgotten about. That is until I discovered Simin Nosrat’s Buttermilk Roasted Chicken which I’ve been making almost weekly since her wonderful cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat landed on my kitchen table. Honestly, this is a cookbook you just can’t put down. The book is as much about the joy of eating as it is about cooking. Simin’s infectious enthusiasm for food and her enlightening insights on how to cook and what to expect are gonna inspire great things happening in your own kitchen.
If you have not had a chance to see Simin’s four part TV series Salt Fat Acid Heat do be sure to do so. It is a visual feast that’s going to energizes your inner cook.
The recipe that follows is adapted slightly in that I like to divide the chicken into four parts which eliminates carving once the chicken is roasted. I’ve also included the option of adding fresh herbs to the buttermilk marinade. Otherwise the recipe is as it appears in the book. This is a roasted chicken you can count on to deliver a deeply browned crispy skin and juicy tender meat time and time again.
Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken serves 4
- 3 ½ -to 4 pound chicken
- kosher or flaky sea salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
Remove the backbone and divide the chicken into four pieces. Generously season the chicken with salt and set aside for 30 minutes.
Pour the buttermilk into a non-reactive bowl just large enough to hold the chicken and the marinade. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the herbs if using and stir to dissolve the salt.
Brush off excess salt from the chicken and place the chicken in the marinade. Turn the chicken several times. Seal with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator an hour before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 425 f/220 c with the rack set in the center position.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off excess marinade. Place the chicken in a cast iron skillet or shallow roasting pan. Tuck sprigs of fresh herbs between the chicken pieces if using.
Slide the pan all the way to the back of the oven with the legs pointed toward the rear left corner of the oven and breast pieces pointing towards the center of the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 400 f/ 200 c and continue roasting for 10 minutes. Then shift the pan so the legs are facing the back right corner of the oven.
Continue roasting for another 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is well browned all over and the juices run clear when you insert a knife down to the bone between the leg and the thigh.
When the chicken is done remove the pan from the oven, lightly cover with foil, and let the chicken rest 10 minute before serving.
Note: If you don’t have buttermilk substitute plain yogurt.
Moroccan food is a perfect choice to serve for a casual supper for a crowd. The aromas, flavors, and colors of the Maghreb all magically spring to life right in front of your guests eyes. For me Moroccan food satisfies all the hallmarks of a truly world class cuisine as well as being food that almost anyone can master right at home in their own kitchen. Like other regional Mediterranean cuisines the emphasis in Moroccan cookery relies on traditional foods and flavors that highlight locally grown produce along with a modest, but assertive, use of poultry, meats, and fish. Harissa is then the tie that binds any Moroccan meal together.
Harissa’s is a rich earthy red chile laced sauce found all over Morocco. (see recipe here). Always on hand in my kitchen as it will most likely be in yours once you have tasted it. Make your own. I promise you, you will become addicted.
Moroccan food really is easy to prepare, mostly in advance, with only a few final flourish that won’t leave you frazzled and exhausted just as your guests arrive. I have included the menu for a Moroccan supper for twelve that I recently cooked for a friend’s birthday party. The flavors of Morocco were duly relished by all!
Summer Moroccan Supper
Hummus (see recipe here) with Bread Sticks
Spiced Moroccan Lemon Chicken
Roasted Pumpkin with Red Onions & Roasted Spiced Cauliflower
Smoked Eggplant with Garlic Flat bread
Fresh cherry frangipane Tart (see recipe here)
Moroccan Spiced Lemon chicken serves 4
- 4 boneless organic chicken thighs
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger root
- 1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 teaspoon toasted black peppercorns, coarsely ground
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika (Spanish if available)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chile flakes
- 2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups stock (or water)
- 1 lemon 1 tablespoon honey
- roasted red chile strips (optional)
In a large non-reactive bowl combine the onions, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, black pepper, turmeric, paprika, chile flakes, 1 teaspoons sea salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. Mix until combined.
Add the chicken thighs to the bowl and massage the marinade into the thighs. Flatten the contents of the bowl so the thighs are completely submerged in the marinade. Cover with cling film and set aside for at least an hour or refrigerate for several hours.
Trim the ends off the lemon and thinly slice the lemon crosswise into rounds. Place the rounds in a skillet in a single layer and add water to just cover. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and place the skillet over medium heat and Simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the stove and drain off the water. Drizzle the honey over the slices and set aside to use later.
Preheat the oven to 400 f / 200 c Adjust the oven rack to the upper half of the oven.
Bring the marinated thighs to room temperature if they have been refrigerated.
Place the thighs, skin side up, in a deep baking tray or oven proof dish. Pat the remaining marinade over and around the sides of the thighs. Add enough stock to the tray to come about half way up the sides of the thighs. Transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Divide the prepared lemon slices in half.
Open the oven, rotate the tray, and place lemon slices on top of thighs. Garnish each thigh with strips of roast red chiles (optional). Close the oven door and roast another 15 minutes.
Then remove the tray from the oven and pour the remaining cooking liquid into a small saucepan. Cover the chicken lightly with foil and set aside to rest.
Place the saucepan of cooking liquid on the stove top and add an additional cup of stock to the pan. Set the pan over medium high heat and cook until reduced by half.
Plate the thighs and spoon pan juices over the thighs.
As suggested, serve with roasted pumpkin (see recipe here) and spiced roasted cauliflower (or other seasonal vegetables), couscous, and harissa as pictured. Place the reduced pan juices in a bowl placed on the table for ladling over all.