Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked bean stew or casserole originating in the south of France. Traditionally cassoulet is made with meat and white haricot beans. The dish is named after its cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides.
I was a little alarmed to read that the Cassoulet has now been commercialised and can be found in cans at many French supermarkets. For me a cassoulet is a homely dish, one that sings frugal and comfort. It reminds me a little of Shepherds Pie or hearty stews and neither of these dishes are designed for cans, but ones to be made from scratch, filling the home with those bubbling smells.
Anyway, this is vegetable based version made with succulent leeks and butter beans that melt in your mouth. The deep red sauce is topped with herby crispy breadcrumbs. Oh when you tuck into this, you will also find an unexpected surprise. In place of some of the butter beans you will note some whole cloves of garlic. Please don't be shocked, if cooked properly they will not leave you with 'garlic breath' as they are sweet and should just dissolve in your mouth just like the butter beans.
And guess what it's snowing outside again...
Leeks and Butter Bean Cassoulet
1 x 400g tinned butter beans, drained and rinsed or soak 260g butter beans overnight.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 whole bulb of garlic, peeled
2 medium leeks, trimmed and sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 x 400g can of tomatoes, chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 pint of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
For the crust
110g stale white bread, blitzed in a food processor
80ml olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
If using dried butter beans, rinse and drain them. Put into a saucepan and over with plenty of water. Simmer for about an hour until tender. Drain and set aside.
Heat oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and fry over low heat until soft and golden. Add the whole cloves of garlic, leeks and thyme. Cover and fry gently for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time until the leeks are tender. Add the tomatoes, breaking them well with a spatula if not chopped. Add the potatoes, butter beans, stock and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Turn off.
For the crust
Combine all the ingredients together
Preheat oven to Gas mark 4.
Pour into a large casserole and scatter over the breadcrumbs and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 - 30 minutes. Adapted from Leiths Vegetarian Bible by Polly Tyrer