Friday, August 21, 2009

Spain Day 22 Cassoulet in Castelnaudary

If you’re wondering where I’ve been I’ll tell you. A spur of the moment road trip turned into a three day tour of French food specialties.
We spent our first night in Perpignan and toured the city castle and enjoyed entrecote and pomme frites (steak and fries) beneath the watchful eyes of 400 year old gargoyles.
The Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne was our next stop. (Click the hotel link to see a picture of the walled city.) This fabulous four star hotel is part of the old citadel. The kids enjoyed the pool in the shadow of a 16th century church. I enjoyed the view of the old town and the narrow passageways, shops and my first taste of French made cassoulet.
Cassoulet has been a favorite holiday dish of mine. We make it every New Year’s Eve but this is the first time I’ve had this quintessentially French dish made by French hands. So, in the name of research our next stop was Castelnaudary the undisputed Cassoulet capital of France. It was here that I had the most memorable meal of the trip at the Restaurant du Centre et du Lauragais, enthusiastically recommended by the townsfolk.
Le Menu
Fois Gras with toast followed by a steaming pot of Cassoulet, sealed with a crust of duck fat revealing white beans beneath, a leg of duck confit and a fat sausage. Dessert was profiteroles, another French favorite of mine. Cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream melting deliciously into gently warmed dark chocolate sauce. Wine pairing: A nice French champagne to start and an earthy spicy red with dinner.
France 229
France 234
France 230
Here's a recipe I've used numerous times with great success.  The ingredients aren't cheap and the recipe makes enough for 10-12 hungry people so plan for a party or cut the ingredients in half.

Adapted from: Mediterranean The Beautiful Cookbook

For the Beans:
4 ½ cups dried white beans
½ pound salt pork (green bacon) or bacon blanched two minutes then drained.
2 onions, each stuck with 2 whole cloves
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
1 cup peeled and chopped fresh or canned Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Ground cloves (optional)
For the Meat Ragout:
1 tin duck confit
1 ½ pounds lean lamb, cut into small cubes.
4 onions
4 cloves garlic
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups peeled and chopped fresh or canned Roma tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock (plus more as needed)
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 pound garlic pork sausages, cut into 3-4 inch chunks
1 pound fresh pork sausages, cut into 3-4 inch chunks.
2 cups fresh bread crumbs

To ready the beans, place them in a bowl and add water to cover. Let soak overnight. Drain well

Transfer beans to a saucepan and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Add the salt pork or bacon, clove studded onions, garlic cloves, thyme, bay and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the salt, reduce to low, cover and simmer until beans are tender and firm. 1-1 ½ hours. Remove and discard the whole cloves and the bay. Add pepper and the ground cloves (if using). Taste to adjust seasonings.

To make the meat ragout: Open the can of duck confit and scoop out two to three tablespoons of duck fat into a Dutch oven or large pot. Heat and then sear the lamb so all sides are browned. Removed the lamb and reduce heat to medium low add onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are tender and translucent 8-10 minutes. Add lamb, wine, tomatoes and two cups of chicken stock. Gather together the thyme sprigs, parsley and bay leaf into a bouquet garni and tie securely with kitchen string. Add to the pot, cover and simmer until lamb is very tender, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Layer ½ of the beans into the bottom of an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven (something pretty enought to take to the table. Pour meat mixture on top of beans and add the lamb confit and sausage pieces. Cover with the remaining beans. Top with bread crumbs and drizzle duck fat over the top. Bake until the top is crusty and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Serve hot and with ceremony. Break the bread crumb crust and scoop the bean mixture onto each plate (or large shallow soup bowl) then place a piece of duck and a chunk of sausage in the center. Sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.

This meal is very hearty. Serve a simple green salad with a light vinaigrette. Offer nearly frozen peeled grapefruit segments between courses as a palate cleanser (or grapefruit sorbet). Finish in the French fashion with a cheese/fruit course. Champagne to drink.

If you go: Castelnaudary: Be sure to take a walk along the Canal du Midi where canal boats pass beneath stone bridges decked out with flowers. Have your dinner at the Hotel Restaurant du Centre et du Lauragais and if, like us you were so stunned by the food and wine take a room there too. It’s a great two star hotel and looks out over the town’s main street. Ask for a room at the back if you’re an early-to-bed-type.
Carcassonne: If you’re feeling flush stay at the Hotel de Cite; the Hotel Donjon in another lovely choice within the city walls. Stock up on French food specialties at Epicerie de la Cite (10 Rue Cros-Mayrevieille) just up from the Hotel Donjon.
Surrounding Area: Visit the Grotte de Limousis a cave with eight chambers, underground lakes and a rare white crystal chandelier stalactite. The drive into the the mountains past vineyards and tasting rooms is quite lovely . The African Game Reserve at Sigean is a must see if you have kids.


Mustang Sally said...

Looks AMAZING! A younger coworker of mine and her new hubby love to travel (he's a commercial pilot so they can) and are thinking of starting a family, but she thinks that would ned to be the end of their adventures. I disagree... how easy is it really to travel abroad with kids?

Carla said...

Great question!
We’ve travelled all over the world with our kids with great success. Infants are easy; they’re portable, their favorite food source is you, and they sleep when they are tired even if you’re on a plane or boat…taxi. You get the idea. 2-3 years old is the hardest…they’re mobile, have tantrums. Being prepared is the key. Lots of games and hand work on long flights, lots of snacks, favorite blankie or snuggie. I‘m happy to say that it gets easier from there. This trip has been our easiest yet. (J is 6, E is 3).
The other issue is adjusting your expectations. We’ve avoided nice restaurants for a while more because it’s hard to enjoy the food and service and justify the expense when you’re so busy keeping the kids organized and entertained that you don’t appreciate the experience. Happy to say we’re through that and have had some wonderful meals on this trip. We spend a lot of time in play parks and finding potties, though.
And finally, there is something to be said about seeing the world through a child’s eyes. We went to a flamenco show this evening and J loved it. She was absolutely filled with wonder at the beautiful dresses; the wailing songs. As soon as the lights came up she asked if we could stay for the next show. The flamenco was great but J’s response to it was the highlight of the evening.
So, tell your friend she can have her baby and see the world too.

Anonymous said...

I love cassoulet....and want the recipe you promised. When I lived in France I would cheat and get it canned (and it was still good). Can you suggest any sources in Seattle?

Carla said...

Try Delaurenti( at the Pike Place market--I'm pretty sure they carry canned cassoulet. They also carry duck confit which you'll need for the recipe (which I will post today--thank you for the reminder!) from there you can hop over to Uli's and get the sausage; then a quick stop at Don and Joe's for the lamb. Oh, I'm homesick for Pike Place. I used to live right on Western Ave and did ALL my shopping there. Fabulous at the holidays!

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