In the winter, there's no better comfort than sitting down to a large slow cooked stew to help to keep the cold at bay. Victoria explores her delight of winter dishes and the joy of one pot meals. She shares a hearty recipe for the rustic French classic : the cassoulet
I’ve not long returned from a trip to sunny South Africa, where the wine and the factor 50 were free flowing, and I ate enough exotic game meat to keep my B12 levels up until Christmas. After the flight home, I was walking the achingly long trek to exit the airport, when I noticed my teeth had started to chatter. I was rubbing my hands together furiously, in search of extra warmth and instantly felt reassured. I was home and winter had definitely hit. I just wish I’d remembered to pack a jumper for the drive back.
Although it’s not a totally natural feeling to go straight from t-shirts to woollen scarves, I do love this time of year. I love crunching through frosty burnt orange leaves and the promise of mulled wine. Winter has a feel all of its own and it is so powerful that we cannot possibly be held responsible for the amount of carbs and gravy we want to eat.
The drive home from the airport, in inappropriate summer gear, was enough time to turn me off barbecued meat and salads and straight on to one pot wonders. What Brit could turn their nose up at shepherd’s pie or toad-in-the-hole in December? Who doesn’t dream of slow cooked stews and dumplings when the darkness hits like a thick black blanket at 4 o’clock in the afternoon? This is the season to be comforted. And there’s no better comfort than scooping out chunks of juicy, tender meat from a steaming, communal pot.
I’ve spent the last few days rustling up various one pot dishes. Ox cheek stew with chestnut dumplings, pork braised in cider and stovies have all helped keep the cold at bay, but now it’s time to pull out the big guns. It’s time for cassoulet.
Make no mistake, this rustic French classic is not for the faint hearted. This slow cooked meat feast will keep you full for a week. In the interests of my cholesterol levels, I left out the pork rind and cooked with olive oil instead of goose or duck fat. I also swapped the Toulouse sausages for gluten free pork sausages, because that’s what I had knocking about in my fridge, but Toulouse are the real deal in this dish and if you can get them, use them. I also added tomato because I had half a jar of passata that needed finishing and, as far as I’m concerned, you can never go wrong with tomatoes. It’s not customary, so by all means leave them out, if you wish.
This dish is named after the earthenware dish it is traditionally cooked in. I don’t have a cassole, so popped mine in a cast iron casserole instead. Technically, I suppose, this makes it a casserolet, but the taste is the same from either pot. Classic recipes top the cassoulet with a scattering of breadcrumbs before sticking the pot under a hot grill to brown. I have left the breadcrumbs out to make the dish suitable for my gluten free fella.
Serves 4 (or 2 gannets)
Preheat the oven to 130° (110°C Fan)
150g smoked lardons
1 large onion, chopped
A stick of celery, trimmed and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
A head of garlic, peel the cloves but leave them whole
4 Toulouse (or other) sausages
A small bunch of thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tin of ready-soaked haricot or cannelloni beans, or dried beans soaked overnight in 3 times their volume of water
4 confit ducks legs
Half a jar of passata (if you want)
A pint of fresh chicken stock
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
A handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, washed and chopped
If you are using a cassole, do the hob top steps in a skillet before transferring to the cassole before popping it in the oven.
· Soften the onion, lardons, carrot, garlic cloves and celery in olive oil over a medium heat.
· Add the sausages and brown them quickly, before adding the stock, passata, thyme, bay leaves and beans.
· Generously season with salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lemon before popping it in the oven, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours, or until the beans are creamy and soft and the sauce has thickened.
· Bury the duck legs into the beans and cook for a further 1 and half hours to 2 hours.
· Stir in the parsley, check for seasoning and add more if necessary. Whip out the bay leaves and bundle of thyme before serving.
For more delicious duck recipes visit Great British Chefs collection. What are your favourite winter stews? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.