Autumn has so much about it to love……the fresh mornings, the cool evenings, the clean tang in the air, the leaves turning and, of course, the return to a cosy, steamy kitchen filled with the warmth and delicious aromas of baking and winter food. I simply LOVE winter food. Casseroles, stews, soups, curries, bread, scones, puddings! I always get really excited when the seasons change and my cooking changes with it as I pull out old favourite recipes and experiment with new ones. One of my very favourite warming foods, in any shape, form or flavour, is legumes. Home made baked beans – true comfort food – is a staple in our house through the winter and I throw handfuls of beans and lentils into soups and stews to give them greater depth of flavour and more ‘sticking power’.
Some of the best winter foods are the peasant foods that originate from the south of France. Here the wicked Mistral howls and the best way to keep warm is to eat food that sticks to your ribs. Cassoulet from the ancient Languedoc region in France – towns such as Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary, is such food – rich, hearty and slow cooked. Or in the words of the doyenne of cookery writers, Elizabeth David, in French Provincial Cooking – ” that sumptuous amalgamation of haricot beans, sausage, pork, mutton and preserved goose, aromatically spiced with garlic and herbs…cooked at great length in an earthenware pot, emerging with a golden crust, which conceals an interior of gently bubbling, creamy beans and uniquely savoury meats.” Sounds divine, doesn’t it?
Now my recipe here is not really a cassoulet at all. To be honest I simply love the name cassoulet. It’s so romantic and redolent of cold nights, warm fires and good food! Somehow the word casserole doesn’t quite engender the same response in me. This is a simple family dinner but rich, satisfying and very warming when you need it. I feel quite justified in making changes to the original recipes as there are ‘as many versions as there are cooks’ according to Stephanie Alexander in “Cooking and Travelling in South West France’ and Elizabeth David also says, again in French Provincial Cooking, ‘The cassoulet is a dish which may be infinitely varied so long as it is not made into a mockery with a sausage or two heated up with tinned beans…’ I haven’t gone as far as that but I have made it so that it’s pretty quick as I have cut lots of corners!
What inspired me to cook this dish were these wonderful sausages I had picked up at the farmer’s market from Hook and Spoon, a specialist paddock to plate butchery in Benalla. I loved the fact that these sausages are gluten and preservative free and made from real ingredients – no nasties! It feels good to cook with ingredients like these and who doesn’t love a sausage? When I became vegetarian many years ago I really didn’t miss meat at all – but funnily enough the smell of a BBQ’d sausage was enough to almost tempt me back. I used their classic beef sausages for this recipe but their mutton, sage and garlic or pork and fennel would also be perfect. Just remember not to insult the memory of Elizabeth David by using a common or garden variety!
Now my favourite lentils in the world are Puy lentils. These gorgeous nutty, dark green, almost black, lentils originate from Le Puy in France but they have become so popular that we are now growing our own Australian ones. They have less starch than ordinary lentils so they hold their shape and don’t go soggy and mushy when cooked. They also need no soaking so are brilliant for the busy cook. I think a French lentil in my French inspired cassoulet is more than ok!
Now all we need is bacon and garlic with lots of vegetables and tomatoes to create a gorgeous sauce. Soon the kitchen is misting up, it is raining and cold outside, the crusty loaf and fresh butter are waiting and I have opened a bottle of red. Mmmm – perfect comfort food. Bring on winter!
Sausage and Puy Lentil Cassoulet
||1 hour, 20 minutes|
||1 hour, 50 minutes|
This is a hearty and nourishing meal, perfect for a cold winter's night.
- 180g puy lentils
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 rasher bacon (chopped)
- 1 brown onion (finely chopped)
- 1 small leek (finely sliced)
- 1 carrot (chopped)
- 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 6 sausages (about 600g)
- 500ml tomato sugo
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 50g baby spinach leaves
- pinch sea salt
- pinch freshly cracked black pepper
||Cook lentils in 1 litre water for 30 minutes, then drain |
||Pre heat oven to 180 deg C and bake sausages until brown and cooked through |
||In a large saucepan fry bacon in a little olive oil then remove from pan and set aside |
||In same pan sauté onion, leek, carrot and garlic in remaining olive oil until soft |
||Add bacon, tomato sugo and thyme to pan along with 250ml water and simmer for 30 minutes |
||Cut cooked sausages into bite size pieces and add to the tomato sauce along with the drained lentils |
||Add spinach leaves, toss well, season and simmer a further 30 minutes |