Cassoulet is a French classic dish. So important in certain parts of France that there’s even a society in the dishes honour, the Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, which determines whether your cassoulet is truly authentic (they have some fetching costumes to boot).
Cassoulet is a casserole of sorts made from white beans, and various meats, both cured and fresh, depending on the area you find yourself in. It’s peasant food at it’s best, slow cooked and hearty, perfect for a cold winter’s night.
I have made a version of the real thing before, which took the better part of a weekend to prepare and fed a small army of people. It was delicious, but not the most practical dish to make on a school night for your family.
So I’ve messed with it. Reduced the variety of meat products, used canned beans and therefore the cooking time.
And of course, featured L’Authentique’s amazingly authentic Toulouse sausages, without which this would not be a cassoulet at all, just beans.
SHORT CUT CASSOULET STYLE BEANS WITH TOULOUSE SAUSAGES
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 rashers streaky bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g tinned crushed tomatoes
Bouquet garni of bayleaf, thyme and parsley tied together with string
500ml chicken stock
2 x 400g tinned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Salt/pepper to taste
Bunch parsley, leaves chopped
8 L’Authentique Toulouse sausages
1 cup breadcrumbs or half stale baguette, cut into 5mm slices
2 tablespoons melted butter or duck fat
Heat oven to 200ºC.
Heat olive oil in a large oven proof casserole dish over a medium/high heat. Add bacon and cook until well browned and crisp.
Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until onion is soft, but not browned.
Pour over tinned tomatoes and add bouquet garni. Bring to the boil and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are starting to thicken.
Pour over chicken stock and beans, stir to combine, bring to the boil and cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
Remove bouquet garni, season to taste and stir through chopped parsley.
Remove from heat, submerge sausages in the beans, and either sprinkle over breadcrumbs, or layer sliced baguette to cover the cassoulet. Drizzle with melted butter or duck fat, then bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until top is golden and sauce bubbling.
Philippe, one of the charcutiers at L’Authentique, says that merguez sausages are traditionally eaten during summer in France. The sausages are lamb with middle eastern flavours and enough heat to keep things interesting.
In keeping with France by way of Morocco, but mindful that we are knee deep in a New Zealand winter, I’ve paired the sausages with Israeli couscous, preserved lemons and coriander, and roasted root vegetables.
Now you can pretend you’re enjoying the warmth of the French sunshine, in front of a roaring southern hemisphere fire.
L’AUTHENTIQUE MERGUEZ SAUSAGES WITH ROAST VEGETABLE ISRAELI COUSCOUS
1 onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 large carrot, and;
1 beetroot, and;
1/4 butternut, and;
1 kumara, and;
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Israeli couscous
8-12 L’Authentique Merguez Sausages
Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, pith removed and finely chopped
Two large handfuls baby spinach leaves
Large bunch coriander, chopped (or substitute parsley)
1/4 cup olive oil, extra
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 200°C
Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and tip into a baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes until vegetables and cooked and caramelised
Meanwhile cook the couscous. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, tip in the couscous, and cook for 7 minutes (or to manufacturer’s instructions). Drain and set aside.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium/high heat. Add a little olive oil and cook the sausages until golden brown and cooked to medium rare.
To make the salad, toss together the roasted vegetables, israeli couscous, preserved lemon, lemon zest, spinach and coriander. Pour over lemon juice and extra olive oil, toss again and season to taste.
Serve the sausages with the couscous salad and garnish with extra coriander if desired.
This is one of my favourite ways to cook sausages. Well technically, the sausages are cooked the same way they often are – fried in a pan until golden and juicy. And since I’m using L’Authentique sausages, the quality cuts of meat they use mean their sausages should never be overcooked! I’m on pain of death if I dare to leave them a minute longer than I should.
It’s the lentil braise that makes this dish. Lardons of bacon, red wine, garlic, herbs, all cooked to perfection. And the addition of half a head of cabbage means you don’t need to fuss with extra vegetables. It’s all there on the plate.
If you really felt that you need more carbs, you could make like the French and serve this with a crusty baguette to soak up the juices.
L’AUTHENTIQUE TOULOUSE SAUSAGES WITH RED WINE AND CABBAGE LENTILS
2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking sausages
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped into lardons
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, a sprig of thyme and parsley, tied together with string (bouquet garni)
1 1/2 cups puy lentils
2 cups red wine
1/2 green cabbage, finely sliced
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Extra parsley to garnish
8 L’Authentique Toulouse Sausages
In a heavy based casserole dish, heat the olive oil. Add bacon and fry until crisp
Reduce heat, add onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook slowly, stirring, until vegetables are soft.
Add puy lentils, bouquet garni and red wine. Bring to the boil so alcohol evaporates, then add cabbage and stir to combine.
Reduce heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes adding extra water if the lentils start to dry out (there should be sauce).
While lentils are cooking, cook the sausages as per the instructions on the pack. Remove from pan and keep warm.
Check that the lentils are cooked (they should be al dente). Add vinegar and butter, stir to combine and cook for another 5 minutes.
Season to taste, then serve lentils with sauce, sausages piled on top.
This salad came about as a result of having some smoked salmon in the fridge which I’d forgotten about. Never a great thing. Luckily it was still within it’s use by date, so with the addition of a few extras, it became a quite delicious Friday night dinner. With the added advantage that everyone in our family ate it with relish. Even my notoriously picky son.
A traditional Nicoise salad includes anchovies. I left these out this time (more kid friendly), but have included them below for you to add if you like. I added capers for extra salt/zest, but up to you again whether you wish to or not.
SMOKED SALMON NICOISE SALAD (serves 4)
6 new potatoes
150g fresh green beans, top and tailed
1 cos lettuce, washed and leaves torn
1/2 red onion finely sliced
1/4 telegraph cucumber, cut into 2cm cubes
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes, sliced
12 pitted black olives (I used kalamata olives)
200g hot smoked salmon
handful fresh basil leaves
I know it seems odd describing shellfish as being seasonal. But in New Zealand, scallops are very much so. The recreational season runs from 1st September to 31st March in the North Island, and from 15th July to 14th February in the South. The commercial season in the North is slightly longer, but either way, fresh locally harvested scallops are not available all year around.
In our household, the scallop season is cause for great excitement. It means summer’s on the way, it means we get to go out on the boat, and it means access to beautiful, fresh, plump scallops. I am fortunate enough to be married to a keen diver, have access to a boat, and live in a city where the ocean’s bounty is in relatively easy reach. I say “relatively” because being able to dive for scallops doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find them. Close proximity to New Zealand’s major city is a double edged sword – there are many popular scallop beds that are stripped by both commercial and recreational fishermen by the end of the season, hence the need for quotas and seasonality. Besides which, being at the bottom of the ocean means the most effective way to find them is to get down there. And the ocean is a pretty big place.
Anyway, I digress. Needless to say, I count myself very lucky. Trust me when I say, a scallop fresh out of the ocean tastes entirely different to those three days old (more when frozen). Once you’ve eaten them fresh, you’ll never order scallops in a restaurant again.
So how good are scallops for you?
Scallops are a great source of lean protein, containing 18 grams of protein per 85g, or 30% of the RDI protein for men and 38% for women.
They’re a great source of magnesium (10% RDI per serving), which is responsible for hundreds of enzyme reactions, nerve transmission, muscle contraction, blood coagulation, energy production, nutrient metabolism and bone and cell formation. It also helps you sleep.
They’re a great source of potassium (20% RDI per serving). Potassium reduces risk of stroke and lowers blood pressure. It also regulates fluid balance and counters the effect of sodium.
They’re high in vitamin B12 (20% RDI per serving), which reduces the risk of osteoporosis and some types of cancer.
They’re high in Omega-3 fats, which promotes cardiovascular health.
They’re also incredibly low in calories, at only 80 calories per 85g serving. And low in cholesterol at only 10% RDI per serving.
How do I clean them?
There’s a few things that I’m particularly proud of (aside from my children, obvs). One of
which is being able to shuck (clean) scallops. The other is dismantling crayfish and cleaning fish, but that’s a story for another time (and I’m just showing off now…).
In New Zealand we generally eat both the white muscle and the roe. It seems a waste to throw the roe away, but I have noticed that it has become commonplace over the years for restaurants to serve the scallop muscle alone. I’m hoping that they use the roe for other purposes. I’m sure they do (they’re lovely smoked).
Sadly, the rest of the scallop is largely waste, which we use for burley to attract fish in the hope that we might catch them. The waste is NEVER dumped on the scallop beds!
The internet has a wonderful store of video showing how to shuck scallops. Generally we use the flat shell as a “plate” to clean the excess away, but this guy uses the rounded side:
Or you could just go see your local fishmonger, and buy them ready shucked from him.
Some ideas for cooking scallops
Probably the most important thing to impart about cooking scallops is to not overcook them. They are very delicate but become like rubber when left on the heat for too long. About 2 minutes each side should be enough.
Season scallops with salt and pepper, heat a barbecue or griddle pan until very hot and sear scallops until cooked. Squeeze over some fresh lemon juice and serve.
Melt a knob of butter over a medium heat. Add white wine, finely chopped garlic and sliced spring onions, simmer until alcohol has boiled off. Reduce heat, add scallops to the pan and poach until cooked. Serve with salad and crusty bread to mop un pan juices.
Heat olive oil in a pan, and briefly fry finely chopped shallots, garlic and red chilli. Add white wine and simmer until alcohol has gone. Add scallops to the pan, poach until cooked. Season and stir through lemon zest and fresh chopped parsley. Toss through hot cooked pasta and serve.
Using the white scallop muscle only, chop scallop into a 1cm dice. Mix with salt and lime juice. Stir through chopped coriander, chopped red chilli, finely chopped red onion, chopped cucumber, diced fresh tomatoes and avocado. Spoon into lettuce cups and serve.
Wrap scallops with bacon, and secure with a toothpick. Grill until bacon is crisp and scallops are cooked throroughly.
Make a salad with salad greens, sliced red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and coriander. Grill scallops until browned and cooked through. Toss scallops through the salad with a dressing made from mayonnaise and lemon juice.
Make the same salad as above, but omit the avocado and add shredded carrot, mint and slice red capsicum. Marinate scallops in lime juice for 15 minutes, then sear in a hot pan until cooked. Toss with the salad with a dressing made from chopped chilli, and equal parts fish sauce, lime juice and water.