Cassou-la-la

Dec. 17, 2013 @ 10:14 AM

It’s a funny old world in which we live. 
Three hundred years ago, a French farmer would trudge into the house for dinner after working all day, doing back-breaking labor to keep his little patch of soil productive, and food on his family’s table. His wife serves him hardy, soul-nourishing peasant food, made with cheap, handy ingredients and cooked for hours. 
In 2013, a chic young couple pulls up to the valet in their expensive car, wearing expensive clothes, to sup at a trendy bistro. They dine on French fare, dropping a couple of hundred bucks on dinner and drinks.
Both dinners consist of the same thing. Cassoulet and red wine.
A cassoulet is a big bowl of French love. It’s a hot, bubbly casserole full of beans, veggies, and sausage. It’s a classic dish from Toulouse (the town—not the artist).
Folks are paying big bucks in restaurants to eat things like pork belly, grits and catfish. Much of our beloved Southern cuisine comes from the leftover odds and ends that were the only options for slaves and the poor. 
They brought three things to the kitchen that elevated every meal — imagination, care and time. And money cannot buy those elements.
This close to Christmas almost everyone is feeling quite pauper-like. And time is in very short supply. Luckily my wondrous Kid has the answer. A cassoulet that only takes about an hour, compared to the traditional dish which can take literally days to produce.
The Kid’s Quick Cassoulet
Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided and more for drizzling
4 garlicky pork sausages, like mild Italian
4 cloves garlic, chopped, plus 1 clove, whole
4-inch piece of baguette, cubed
2 packed tablespoons flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped, divided
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 slices of ¼ inch thick bacon cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (save juice for something else—like bloody Marys) 
1/2 onion, finely diced
1/3 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
2/3 cups vegetable broth
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Procedure  
   Preheat the oven to 475°F. Preheat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the sausages. Brown the sausages thoroughly on both sides.
   While the sausages are browning, make the breadcrumbs. Drop the whole clove of garlic into the food processor, and blitz. Add the cubed baguette, 1 tablespoon of parsley, and 1 teaspoon of thyme. Blitz until the cubes are crumbs. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper, and blitz to combine. Set aside.
   When the sausages are almost ready, add the bacon to the pan with the sausages, and sauté until the bacon is golden brown. Take the sausages out of the pan, and set to one side.
   Lower the heat to low, and carefully add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the drained tomatoes. Raise the heat to high, and cook until the pan is dry and the tomatoes are just beginning to stick to the pan. Add the wine, and again, cook until the pan is nearly dry. Add the vegetable broth, 1 tablespoon of roughly chopped parsley and 1 teaspoon of thyme, along with the beans. Cook just until it starts to boil.
     Transfer the bean mixture to a wide, shallow baking dish. Arrange the sausages on top. Then top with the breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, until it’s bubbling and the breadcrumbs are toasted. Serve hot with a green salad and a crusty baguette.  Serves 6.
     Whether it’s the Kid’s Cassoulet, fish sticks and blue box mac, or even a bucket of chicken, stop running, sit down with your loved ones, and enjoy a meal together. Make the time; nobody is going to care (or remember) if your holiday preparations wouldn’t get an A-plus from Martha Stewart.
     And from the whole Matthews family to you and yours, have yourself a very merry Christmas, and a shiny new year.

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.