Seasonal Shift

Cassoulet is a dish primed for ushering in cooler temps


Now that cooler weather has moved in, I’m ready for a hearty meal for a weekend gathering. Usually gumbo is my go-to for an autumn meal, but I decided that a cassoulet would be a nice change. Leave it to the French to combine white beans and various meats (like sausage, pork and preserved duck or goose) that are cooked long and slow, sending enticing aromas wafting through the house.


Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Since the cassoulet is quite substantial, I suggest this dip to be offered during the cocktail hour. It has the color and taste to complement crudités, toasted pita bread triangles or crisp crackers.

Makes 1¼ cups
2 red bell peppers
3 slices white bread, crusts removed
¼ cup milk
¼ cup pitted green olives
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Tabasco pepper sauce
sliced green olives for garnish

Preheat broiler. Slice peppers in half lengthwise, and core and seed. Lay pieces skin side up in a shallow broiling pan and set pan 3 inches below heat.
Broil peppers until skin blisters and turns black. Remove peppers to a plastic bag and close it; let them steam for 15 minutes.
When they are cool enough to handle, peel off skin. Meanwhile, break bread into a small bowl, add milk, and soak for 10 minutes.
Combine bread, peppers, olives and garlic in a food processor and process with a pulsing motion for about 4 seconds. Add oil, lemon juice, and Tabasco sauce, and pulse 3 seconds longer. Spoon dip into a serving bowl, cover and let stand at least 30 minutes to blend flavors. Garnish with sliced olives.

*Feel free to use canned roasted red bell peppers to save time, but pat them dry with paper towels before making the dip. 

Main Course

Cassoulet, My Way

I use Trappey’s canned beans, but you can certainly use your favorite.

Makes 8 to 10 servings
6 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
1½ pounds smoked sausage
1½ pounds fresh pork sausage
½ pound center cut pork chops (boneless), cut into thin strips
3 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup dry red wine or brandy
4 (15.5-ounce) cans navy beans
with slab bacon
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes in juice
1¼ cups canned chicken broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 chicken thighs, roasted, skin removed and deboned
salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne to taste
pinch or two ground allspice
¼ cup olive oil
3 cups cubed French bread, lightly toasted
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Fry bacon in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until just browned and slightly crisp. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add sausages and pork strips to bacon drippings and cook, stirring, until browned evenly, about 8 minutes. Add to bowl.
Add onions and garlic to drippings, and cook, stirring, until onions are soft and lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add red wine or brandy, and cook, until it is almost all evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes with juice, broth, tomato paste and sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Stir and reduce heat to medium. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Add bacon, sausages, pork strips and chicken and stir to mix. Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne. Add allspice and pour mixture into a large casserole.
Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and cook, stirring, until lightly golden. Transfer to a large bowl. Add Parmesan cheese and parsley. Toss to mix. Spread mixture over cassoulet and bake until the bread crumb mixture is golden brown and the cassoulet bubbles, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve hot.

*The cassoulet does take some effort to put together. Since I have no desire, or the time, to preserve a duck or a goose, I go heavy on assorted sausages, both smoked and fresh, as well as strips of lean pork and roasted chicken that are readily available at a local butcher shop. To make the preparation easier I substitute canned beans and count on fresh basil and thyme to intensify the flavors.


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Goat Cheese

Makes one cake to serve 12 to 14
1/2 pound soft goat cheese, at room temperature
3 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
Pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter a 10-inch tube pan and dust with flour.
Put the goat cheese and the butter in a large bowl and cream with a mixer on high speed. Add the sugar, salt, lemon zest and the vanilla. Beat again until it is very light.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour. Beat just until it is all incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Tip: If you have some fig preserves, garnish the cheesecake with a spoonful on each serving.  

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