The Musette: cassoulet

This recipe for lamb casserole with beans would have fed four hungry cyclists, but I only had two to feed. So, what to do with the leftovers? I made that French classic cassoulet. Now, there are a million and one recipes for this dish  – named after its cooking vessel – but my version leans towards the one from Toulouse which uses cold roast shoulder of lamb. In essence, the dish mixes cold roast meats and sausages with tomatoey cannellini or haricot beans and is topped with breadcrumbs.

If you don’t have any leftovers from previous recipes, see my handy hints section at the end for alternatives.

Ingredients (serves eight cyclists)

  • 500g (approx 1lb) of cold cooked shoulder of lamb
  • 500g (approx 1lb) of tomatoey cannellini or haricot beans
  • 500g (approx 1lb) of Toulouse sausage, or any other coarse-cut pure pork sausage
  • Tin containing four confit duck legs (or see handy hints section on how to confit duck legs)
  • 225g (8oz) home-made fresh breadcrumbs reduced to rubble, rather than fine dust (Do NOT use ones from a packet)
  • A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Method

1. Remove the confit duck legs from the tin scraping off as much as possible of the duck fat – save for roast potatoes. Brown the legs on a trivet in a roasting tray in a hot pre-heated oven at 220ºC/200ºC fan/gas mark 7 (425ºF/390ºF fan) for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before stripping meat from the bones. The skin is delicious but fatty, so I strip that off too but, to be honest, it does taste better if you leave it on the meat.

2. Meanwhile boil the sausages in some hot water to eliminate any excess fat for around 10 minutes and then place them in the oven with the duck legs, also for around 20 minutes. Leave to cool and cut into bite-sized chunks.

3. Shred the cold lamb and add with the cold duck meat and sausage to the cold bean mixture. Stir carefully to evenly distribute the meats throughout. If, horror of horrors, you find you don’t have enough bean mixture, don’t panic, just add an extra can of beans (drained and rinsed) and another tin of diced tomatoes. Pile the mixture either into one large or a number of casserole dishes.

4. Sprinkle the breadcrumb and chopped parsley mixture on top. You can add a little of the duck fat to the breadcrumbs if you dare, then put the casserole dish(es) into the slow oven at 150ºC/130ºC fan/gas mark 2 (300ºF/270ºF fan) for an hour or so to turn golden brown on top. Serve with a crisp green salad, baguette and, maybe, a glass of red wine.

5. I find this makes enough for eight servings. So I have two sets of three servings wrapped in cling-film in the freezer to feed any unexpected visitors.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you don’t have any cold lamb leftovers, you can substitute cold roast pork or even ham. Just remember to cut off any excess fat.

2. You can of course prepare the beans from scratch. I often do this in bulk as follows:

  • 900g (2lb) haricot or cannellini beans soaked overnight in plenty of cold water and then drained
  • 450g (1lb) salt pork (as pictured above in additional ingredients) or even pigs’ trotters!
  • 3 small onions peeled, each stuck with a clove
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • White of one fat leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni of fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf and rosemary) or 1 dried bouquet, plus a handful of fresh parsley stalks

Put the pre-soaked beans into a large saucepan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil, cover with a lid, remove from the heat and leave for 40 minutes or so. This helps make them much more digestible. Drain the beans, cover them again with the same amount of cold water. Meanwhile bring the salt pork or trotters to the boil in plenty of water and drain immediately. Add these to the beans along with the other ingredients. Bring to the boil, skim, then cover and cook for two hours.

When cool, remove and discard the vegetables and the bouquet garni. Take out the salt pork or the trotters, allow to cool, cut into bite-sized chunks and (see above) add to the other meats. Drain the beans and take out half of them. To the remainder add 2 x 400g (2 x 14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes and 1 tbsp of tomato paste, heat gently through for 30 minutes and allow to cool.

3. The beans in a true cassoulet are not too tomatoey, so feel free to reduce the quantity of tomatoes and eliminate the paste entirely if you prefer.

4. If you don’t have tinned confit duck you could substitute roast duck legs or again you can prepare them from scratch, as follows:

  • 4 duck legs
  • 500g (1lb) of sea salt
  • Pepper
  • 225g (8oz) duck or goose fat
  • 1 clove of garlic (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • Sprig of fresh thyme (optional)
  • 250ml (1 cup) of white wine

Shake a layer of salt onto a plate, pepper the duck legs then place them on the layer of salt with the garlic and herbs. Cover with the rest of the salt, cover the plate with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 36 hours. Remove the duck from the salt mixture, brush off any excess and place them in a casserole dish with the duck or goose fat, the glass of white wine and one of water. Cover with a layer of crumpled, damp greaseproof paper and a lid. Cook gently in a slow oven at 150ºC/130ºC fan/gas mark 2 (300ºF/250ºF fan) for three hours. Take out of the oven and leave to cool in the fat.

5. Feel free to play around with the proportions and mix of meats to beans to make the dish go further.

6. If the cassoulet looks as if it’s drying out, you can add a little water, add a second crust and return to the oven to brown. It won’t spoil – trust me.

The Musette: a riff on ratatouille and caponata

I generally love shopping daily, finding inspiration in the local shops and markets for the day’s meals. However, when I’m on my own, I’m quite happy to make a pot of something which I can use in a number of different ways for a variety of meals. Often necessity is the mother of invention and the dish comes from whatever I have sitting in the fridge.

I love Ratatouille, a dish hailing from Nice, because it’s one way of using the abundance of summer sun-ripened vegetables. As a general rule, I use equal quantities of each vegetable – tomatoes, peppers, onions, courgettes and aubergines. I would generally sauté each vegetable separately in olive oil and assemble them at the end, as in my lasagne recipe. This guarantees that each one retains its colour, flavour and texture. However, on my regime I’m not supposed to sauté vegetables in olive oil plus I didn’t have any courgettes, so I opted for a mix of the Niçois dish with some ingredients from one which is typically Sicilian, Caponata. Note, I used passata rather than fresh tomato sauce because I was also out of fresh tomatoes!

Ingredients (serves 6 as a side dish, or 4 as a main)

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (neutral flavoured)
  • 2 small aubergines, cut into 2cm (1″) cubes
  • 1 large red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped, or tsp chilli flakes
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 celery stalks or small fennel bulb, cut into 2cm (1″) pieces
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 150g (1 cup) black olives, pitted
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  •  500ml (2 cups) passata or 4 very large tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

1. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and place them in a  saucepan with a pinch of salt. Gently bring to the boil and cook over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened. Strain through a food mill or large-holed sieve to remove the skins.

2. Heat 1tbsp coconut oil a large saucepan, sweat the red onion, red chilli pepper, red pepper and garlic over a medium heat for 10 minutes until lightly caramelised. Add 2 tbsp of tomato paste and cook lightly to get rid of its raw flavour.

3. Now, add the diced aubergines, strained tomatoes or passata, and season. Bring to the boil, cover with greaseproof (parchment) paper, clamp on the lid and simmer gently for an hour. The parchment paper prevents the mixture from drying out. You’ll need to cook it for this long to soften the aubergine. Alternatively, fry both aubergine and pepper in olive oil and cook for only 20 minutes.

4. If the capers are salted, soak them for 2 minutes, then drain. If brined or in vinegar, drain and rinse. Add the capers and olives, stir and leave to sit for at least 2 hours, stirring gently once or twice. The finished dish needs to rest for at least an hour – ideally three. It’s even better the next day, and keeps well in the fridge for up to four days.

5. This dish can be served either at room temperature or cold, as a main or side dish. I also love it as a sauce with penne or heaped over some sweet potatoes or cauliflower rice.

6. You can make it more Sicilian by adding a handful of raisins, toasted pine nuts, a tbsp of sugar and 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar for a sweet-sour hit. I’ll often do this a couple of days later to give it a slightly different flavour.