Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Game Day Cassoulet

I have a friend who makes cassoulet (pronounced cass-oo-lay) at least once every winter. I love it and always look forward to it. Native to the southwest part of France, there are many versions. It’s a wonderful dish but very labor intensive, and for a rustic dish, pretty expensive.

It requires duck confit, leg quarters cooked in duck fat for a long time on very low heat. In addition, lamb shanks and French garlic sausages are included in most recipes.

And it’s a lot of work. Anthony Bourdain’s recipe in the “Les Halles Cookbook” gives directions broken down into “Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3” segments.

Well, when I recently wanted to do a similar dish for a brunch with neighbors, Anthony Bourdain wasn’t there (more’s the pity!) and I came up with a much less labor intensive version of my own. If not at all authentic, it sure was good!

I used chicken thighs with the bone in and the skin on. Even if you don’t like to eat the skin, I advise that you leave it on during cooking to keep the meat from drying out. For the sausage I used smoked sausage from the supermarket. A good lamb sausage would make a felicitous substitute; if it isn’t precooked, broil or roast it first, then cut into slices.

This would make a wonderful dish for you NCAA tournament game-watching friends. You can make everything the day before, then assemble in the morning, and bake when you’re ready for it. I made a salad with sliced winter fruit: oranges, pears and apples, with toasted walnuts on a bed of butter lettuce with a black currant vinaigrette dressing. It was the perfect companion to the cassoulet.



GAME DAY CASSOULET
1 lb great northern beans
2 tbsp olive oil
8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on (about 2 lbs)
12 oz smoked sausage, cut into 1/2" slices
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
3 medium carrots, sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
5 or 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs from firm bread

In a large bowl or pan, soak the beans overnight (or at least 8 hours) in water to cover by 2".
In a heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down and brown on both sides in two batches. You want them a nice dark golden brown. Remove to a plate. Add the sliced sausage and brown on both sides. Remove and add to the plate with the chicken. Reserve.

Add the onion, garlic and carrot to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to soften and is translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir until all the vegetables are coated with it. Add the wine, thyme and bay leaf and simmer until reduced by about half.

Drain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid. Add them to the vegetable mixture, along with the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook at a low simmer until the beans are just tender, about 45 minutes. After 30 minutes, taste the stock and salt if you think it needs it. If you are preparing it in advance, cover and refrigerate the beans in the pot, and the plate with the chicken and sausage.

Preheat the oven to 350. Drain the cooking liquid from the beans and reserve. Pick the thyme stems and bay leaf out of the beans. Put half the beans in a large casserole. Top with the sausage, then the rest of the beans. Nestle the thighs down in the beans, skin side up and exposed. Pour enough of the reserved cooking broth to just cover the beans.

Place the casserole in the oven and lightly rest a sheet of foil on the top. Bake for an hour, adding more of the cooking broth as needed to keep the beans just covered. Remove the foil. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the beans and chicken. Bake for an additional 30 minutes. Serves 8 very generously.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wolfgang Puck in Louisville

I was in Louisville, my home town, this past weekend, and had the occasion to go downtown on a family business errand. I hadn't been downtown in perhaps years, and was pleasantly surprised at how "big city" it looked. In the lobby of the convention center we found a new place, "Wolfgang Puck Express." With an open line, and a wood fired pizza oven, it was hard to resist.

Friendly folks gave us menus and directed us toward a long but fast-moving line. Once our order was taken and paid for, we helped ourselves to our beverages. My sister had a coke but I had asked for unsweetened tea. The only tea they had was a very heavily mango infused tea, not particularly to my taste.


The extensive menu features Wolfgang Puck’s hand-crafted gourmet pizzas, a variety of pastas, sandwiches, soups, fresh salads, including Wolfgang’s famous Chinois™ chicken salad, and Wolfgang’s classics, such as ginger salmon and rosemary rotisserie chicken with garlic mashed potatoes. In this picture, you see one of the salads, quite an astonishing stack of goodies for the price. One with grilled salmon topped out the price list at $10.95. Others came with grilled chicken or rotisserie beef. And to the right of the salad is one of the pocket sandwiches, so large I could never have eaten it all.

In the background you can see the pizza oven.


My sister and I shared a very tasty "petite Caesar." As you can see it wasn't so petite. The lettuce was crisp and the dressing was one of the best in my recent memory. We also split a Tuscan vegetable pizza, loaded with roasted tomato, eggplant, fennel, rapini, mozzarella and fontina cheeses and pesto sauce. Boy! Was it ever good, and again, more than the two of us together could finish.

My only regret is that it is downtown, and that makes it a long way to go for lunch. They are open in the evenings, but are a bit more casual than I would like for a dinner out. But any time I'm going to be close to downtown, I would sure stop in again!

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