Since the weather is beginning to get distinctly nippy now, and I’m delving into my wardrobe for properly warm jumpers, it seems that it’s also time to start pulling out some suitably wintry recipes from my archives.
At this time of year, a combination of meat and root vegetables – in a stew or casserole – is a fine way to fend off the cold. But, more and more frequently these days, I’m asked for a vegetarian alternative. The following reworking of a French cassoulet is a wonderful meal for non-meat eaters and carnivores alike. I’ve been making it for twenty-odd years now, and on every occasion I’ve made it, the meat lovers have lapped it up just as quickly as the vegetarians!
It’s full of robust earthy and slightly sweet (from the chestnuts) flavours and needs nothing more to go with it than a green or bitter-leaf salad and some fresh bread to mop up any leftover juices.
450g tinned cannellini or flageolet beans (or a mix of both), drained
150ml olive oil (NOT extra virgin)
4tbsp tomato purée
1 medium onion, studded with cloves
1 garlic clove, crushed
large pinch dried oregano
large pinch dried thyme
2 bay leaves
100g vac-packed chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet, available from most supermarkets)
half a head of fennel, or 3 celery sticks, chopped
225g button mushrooms
1 large beefsteak tomato, chopped
1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
1.5 tbsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
Tip the beans into a large pan or flameproof casserole. Add the oil, tomato purée, onion, garlic, herbs, and bay leaves, and enough cold water to cover the whole lot completely.
Bring to the boil on a hob for 15 minutes, then cover and turn the heat down, and simmer away over a very low heat for 2 to 2.5 hours.
Remove from the heat. Take out and discard the onion. Add the chestnuts to the pan with the fennel (or celery), mushrooms, tomato, sugar, salt and pepper. Continue to cook for another hour or so until the juices have thickened nicely, but the cassoulet has not turned dry. Serve with bread and salad.