Vegetarian Cassoulet

Like many meat-based dishes, cassoulet (a traditional French stew containing meat and beans) never entered my head, until I saw Gourmet’s Vegetarian Cassoulet recipe in 2008. It caught my eye in part because it used a lot of celery, and I often have half a head that languishes around. I made it several times within the next couple of years, and enjoyed it, but it never became a regular dish for me, and I forgot all about it.

Fast forward to this spring, and my first trip to the farmer’s market in months. Here in DFW we had a very mild winter, and spring came early. The market, the last weekend of February, already had the first asparagus of the season, along with a mix of winter and spring veggies. I tried not to overbuy, but inevitably I ended up at home trying to decide what to do with everything.

I had two bunches of small celery plants, spring onions, and carrots, and as I looked at them the recipe for the cassoulet came back to me, and I decided that it was the perfect way to use and enjoy my bounty. I chopped the vegetables while cooking other dishes, storing them in a container until a day or two later when I was ready to make the dish.

Pre-chopping the vegetables definitely made this a quick dinner, cooking start to finish in under and hour, and mostly hands-off. I also used crushed garlic bread that I’d frozen (part of the leftover garlic bread I used in this casserole) instead of making my own breadcrumbs, although usually I do make my own.

 

It is an interesting dish, hearty without being heavy and definitely satisfying, although without any strong flavors. I suspect this is why I have been ambivalent in the past – it definitely needs the flavors punched up a bit, which I didn’t do this time around. The breadcrumbs, with their strong garlicky flavor, definitely help make the dish, but the stew itself needs to be a little more vibrant. That being said, it is still strangely addictive, and I was really bummed when I finished the pot. It’s definitely on the list to make again, if the weather will drop under 75.

Vegetarian Cassoulet

Yield: 4-6 servings

Vegetarian Cassoulet

Recipe adapted from Gourmet

    For the cassoulet:
  • 5 spring onions (about 1-2 cups chopped)
  • 3 small celery plants (about 2 cups chopped)
  • 20 small carrots (about 2 cups chopped)
  • 9 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 to 5 sprigs thyme, or a small handful
  • 2-4 parsley sprigs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 cans cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or broth, or water
    For the breadcrumbs:
  • 4 cups coarse breadcrumbs from a fresh baguette
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Cut the white part of the spring onion in half, and then cut the entire length (both white and green) into 1" pieces. Cut the celery stalks into 1" pieces. If the carrots look good, leave the skin on. If they are narrow carrots, simply cut into 1" pieces. If they are fat carrots, cut the carrot in half or even in quarters so the pieces are a reasonable size. I have listed approximate quantities, but the exact amount isn't important, so feel free to adjust a little depending on what you have or what you need to use up. You can also chop the vegetables a day or two in advance; just store in an airtight container in the fridge.
  • Heat the oil in a pot, and add the veggies. Start to cook the vegetables, adding the bay leaf, thyme and parsley sprigs, and ground cloves. Continue cooking the vegetables until they have softened and have some color on them.
  • Add the beans and then the stock, stirring to make sure everything is mixed and nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. Simmer the cassoulet for about 30 minutes, or until the carrots and celery are tender.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. While the cassoulet is simmering, toss the fresh breadcrumbs, oil, and garlic together. Add more of any ingredient if necessary. Spread the breadcrumb mixture on a rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Bake until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes, stirring halfway through the baking time. Remove from oven and mix the parsley with the breadcrumbs.
  • When the cassoulet has finished cooking, discard the bay leaf and the parsley and thyme stems. If desired, add some fresh chopped parsley and fresh thyme leaves to the pot and stir in. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
  • Serve in a bowl, with breadcrumbs liberally sprinkled on top.
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