October 31, 2007
Tonight as I made the rounds to lock the Relais de Camont against the night before settling in the barge, Bacon had a barking frenzy at what I took to be the old poplar stump. Wrong. A few moments later he attacked the fig tree. Now what was going on? Just as I came over to investigate he sprang out of the bushes howling and whelping off the charts. And smelling. Really really bad!
By the time I caught the giant bebe puppy and got a flashlight to explore, I was pretty sure, I didn't want to meet the critter, large or small, that started all this. I know there aren't skunks in the old world but this had to be a close cousin.
So I turned my back to the porch light and we walked the gangplank to the wheelhouse to settle in for the night and have a little skype chinwag with one of my mates showing up for the all-bean-all-the-time Camp Cassoulet this weekend (follow our antics later here- same time, same station). Immediately we were plunged into darkness, the wireless connection broken and the stinky beast still lurking outside...in the dark.
The captain in me grabbed the flashlight which I still had in my pocket and started out the door to the circuit breaker back in the barn. The girl in me got squeamish so I figured I'd take Bacon with me to 'protect' me. In any case, I called back my friend in England on my cell phone and had him 'walk' with me to the barn in the pitch black of a Gascon country night! A few switches later Bacon and I were back in the light. I thank friends who even when they could have laughed hard at me, didn't. Thanks Tim Clinch for being a true gentleman.
It must have been the very thought of beasties and ghouls but when these two events happened within 5 minutes of each other, I knew the ghosts of Toussaint to come were at work and then remembered...of course, All Hallow's Eve. Happy Halloween.
1. Peel and Cube enough French pumpkin or butternut squash to fill half of a sauce pan.
2. Cover with spring water- about one knuckle over the cubes.
3. Add thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaf.
4. Cook over medium heat until the pumpkin is tender.
5. Remove thyme sprig and bay leaf, mix with an immersion blender. adjust seasoning as needed.
6. Serve with croutons cubes of Pain d'Epice or spice bread sauteed in butter until crispy. Be careful! they burn very quickly- like pine nuts!
October 29, 2007
Meet me at the Relais de Camont at 9:45 or
at the Nerac Market- cafe next to the maison de presse
at the market square.
Each team will shop for all the necessary ingredients for cassoulet- confit de canard and/or pork, saucisse de Toulouse, couenne (pork rind), ventreche, etc. I'll supply the vegetable basics (onions, garlic, spices, duck fat, etc).
An informal 'retour de la marche' lunch upon returning will fortify us for the afternoon's work.
For those coming just for dinner- King Cassoulet Dinner will be in front of the fireplace around 8 pm with roasted pumpkin pockets, a potager salad and David L's home made ice cream with armagnac.
Those wishing to make a cassoulet to take home can do since we'll have a few canning jars at hand!
October 22, 2007
Just now at 5:35 those same plaintive calls from so high are announcing that winter is at last on the way- the sound of 200some cranes overhead waking me from an afternoon reverie.
For more truffleness consult:
- here when Pim and I met the estimed Mme. Delon and her Kiki
- here at my own Spring musings,
- and most importantly here if you want to join me this winter for some truffle madness!
Now, let the dark months come and with them the black diamonds of the Perigord.
Camp Cassoulet is just 2 weeks away... anyone who can get them selves to this corner of France is most welcome to join in the hi-jinks! Just drop me an email ...
October 19, 2007
Back to work.
No use crying over spilled beans.
After all the tea and sympathy for the loss of my oldest cassoulet cassole, I am back on the track... with a few diversions along the way.
Camp Cassoulet begins this week with a jaunt to the Not Freres poterie outside of Castelnaudary. With that goal in mind I decided to load up as many pots as my 2CV will carry. After securing enough pots to throw around, I invite any and all readers within cooking distance to join me All Souls/All Saints weekend (Halloween to you North Americans)- Nov 1-4 for a Cassoulet celebration. The beans are on me!
- Friday night for Soupe de Citrouille with foie gras croutons,
- Saturday morning Market at Nerac for charcuterie and confit,
- Cassoulet Class all afternoon,
- Overnight cookoff in the cheminee,
- Sunday Lunch of ...Cassoulet and Wine
- Sunday supper- Tourain d'Ail
- Monday, sorry back to work.
And for other tasty hijinks and French Kitchen Adventures, you can now consult the workshop descriptions and calender at www.frenchkitchenadventures.com .
October 13, 2007
October 08, 2007
- A copy of Dante’s ENFER to send to Dario in Panzano,
- An illustrated mid-century city guide forwarded by Jean Cocteau to
"Paris-tel qu’on l’aime" that Stephanie will take back to , Alaska
- A 1940’s cookbook for the French Kitchen.
This is what it said On Cooking Dried Beans:
Soak the beans for 12 hours in fresh water.
Strain the beans, discard the water and cover by double with eau de la source (spring water) or tap water with a pinch of bicarbonate soda added.
Add one whole, peeled onion with a clove stuck into it.
Add a bouquet garni (bay, thyme and parsley) and salt to taste.
Bring to a boil and then simmer gently cooking for 2- 2 ½ hours.
Taste one bean to see if it is tender.
I guess what struck me was that Time thing again. Let the beans cook, 2 hours, slowly. Kitchen Godfather Harold McGee tells us that time is the way to diminish gas problems, cooking beans slowly rather than changing the water. Buy the Book and read his wise words on legumes in chapter 9.
After the brocante shop, my visiting family and I hit the rainy day market in Nerac:
the meaty makings for the cassoulet (see next post!) and of course,
the famous le fast food carefully prepared by Jehann at the Ferme de Boue at Ste. Maure.
By now, I have three types of beans, the home-grown Tarbais, a kilo of the popular fresh plump
In the interest of economy of time and space (smaller pots), cover the fresh beans with double their measure of water, in this case, the bowl they were sitting in. Add just the simplest aromatic elements to the water (straight from my slightly filtered tap), a slice of ventrech demi-sel or half cured, lightly salted fresh bacon, a whole onion, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, one bay leaf and a shake of quatre épice* (in lieu of the proverbial clove stuck in the onion- my own Gascon touch) and salt (about a teaspoon) & pepper. Simmer gently. Uncovered or not. Yummy smells fill the galley.
In 30 minutes the Coco were perfectly cooked, tender to the teeth but still firm, they are thin-skinned and creamy like bean puree held together by pride and a very thin shell. They taste nutty and sweet.
In 30 minutes, the Michelet were less interesting- both in texture and taste; their thicker skins separated from the firm meat that was more mealy than creamy. Without bothering further, I 86ed them from the Cassoulet Project and slipped them in a freezer bag and popped them in the new orange SMEG’s darling little freezer. They’ll make a nice addition to soup, a puree or something else later this fall.
After boiling the dried Tarbais about 5 minutes, I let them soak for an hour. The quick soak method HMcG recommends (heat and water rehydrating the bean skin and cell structure more efficiently) I then repeated the cooking process- onion, bay, 4-épice,salt & pepper. The Tarbais cooked for one hour and are still very firm. They were dried on the vine, perhaps over sun-dried and under-watered in the hot summer potager. However, they are large and meaty nearly twice the
So just as I did with the
Coco in the Pods
October 04, 2007
I am not going to brag, much, but Sue Kelley and I grew these sweet Tarbais beans this summer in the much maligned potager at Camont. We got just enough of a harvest for perhaps two medium size cassoulets, one for now to share with you all, and one for later this winter when the Garonne River Valley damp has seeped into every pore of the stone walls.
Choose your bean for texture- creamy, thin skin and flavorful, and size- and they should be large enough to stand up to bites of sausage or chunks of duck. Buy fresh in season or dried from good sources; an eight year old bean doesn't taste like much. And don't get lost in how strange, complicated and time consuming a cassoulet sounds. Learn to cook your beans well and the rest will fall in place. Ste. Paula (Wolfert) gives a fine account of tracking down THE Cassoulet in her essential "The Cooking of Southwest France". Having had the pleasure of eating in Daguin's kitchen for many years, her description of the famous Fava bean cassoulet made me smile remembering those meaty fresh favas, peeled and stewed with nutty duck confit. A thoroughly Gascon solution to winning any cassoulet concours hands down.
So choose your beans wisely.
October 01, 2007
I learned to make cassoulet here in Southwest France that same way. I arrived one cold spring along the Canal du Midi on my barge, the Julia Hoyt. It was 1988. I was 37. Taking respite from strong Midi winds called the Tramontana, my mates and I bumped into the sheltered back port at Castelnaudary to moor up for a few days, weeks, whatever. We stayed some months.
This was my first taste of a truly regional dish. Here, on every shop sign, butcher shop, traiteur, and dedicated-to-the-bean "Cassouletier" was the same iconic emblem- a flared open terracotta pot with a double lip and small pouring spout- it's called a cassole. And this IS the home of Cassoulet. Before someone interrupts to tell me that Toulouse and Carcassonne like to compete for the 'best' cassoulet in the Southwest, tell me just where is the town with a water tower painted like a giant cassole? Yup, Castel-nau-dary.
It's actually very difficult to make cassoulet in Castelnaudary since half of the town does it for a living. Why go through all the bother when their are beautiful small shops, busy wood fired oven cafes and industrial kitchen factories dedicated to perfecting the recipe? One can stop in and order a 10-person, a 6-person or even a very generous 2 person cassoulet complete with perfect crusty top for a few centimes, francs, euros, or whatever is current. After paying a deposit on the take-out bowl, I'd cradle the full cassole on the back of my bike and returned to the Barge galley-- reheat in a slow oven, serve with a green salad and pour a bottle of big red wine from the Minervois. Eh Voila! A real authentic Cassoulet!
But as I left the the Grande Bassine along Pierre-Paul Riquet's curvaceous Canal du Midi, and was beginning to have C-withdrawals, I ran smack into the 'egg' of this recipe perched on the towpath by l'ecluse de la Mediterranean- at the vine-covered lock next to the Poterie Not Freres.
Since that long ago day, I have bought more than my fair share of hand thrown pots, water jugs, umbrella stands and garden urns from Aime, his Brother and Nephews. I have photographed, filmed, talked and coerced with a bottle of armagnac until I learned a few secrets, had a big picture and counted them as friends. But most important of all, that day, I came away with a simple cassole that would inspire my cassoulet endeavors for a couple decades- a thick-walled, hand-thrown clay pot with sturdy lip and pouring spout that could sit in an oven for hours and cradle the beans as they plump in their own juices.
People ask all the time "how to make a Cassoulet" but it wasn't until I headed to Italy this summer to do a little wood-oven cooking with La Diva that I had that 'Ta-Da' moment. The one where the slow burn of 19 years of cooking a simple peasant bean dish in the same pot finally transforms into a gastronomic surety. Time. Time, my friends, remains the too secret and often missing ingredient in a great cassoulet. Not just the 19 years of learning but time enough to slip a properly-made cassoulet in the oven overnight for tomorrow's lunch. Time to think about buying some nice fatty sausages (thanks Dario!) while shopping; time to soak the Tarbais beans I bought at the market in Agen and tucked in my suitcase; time to wait a whole week to cook la piece de la resistance. Then I finally placed the French pot on the spent ashes in the wood oven that had cooked and baked and grilled for an entire week. It was just enough time to turn the melting beans into a self-crunching crust- no breadcrumbs allowed.
Just like this story, you can't rush a good bean. Slow and easy. Now, for a more leisurely look at that clay dusted workshop on the Canal du Midi way back then... click on www.longvillage.com
Next... the beans.