January 16th, 2012
A drafty farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Red wine in mismatched glasses. A long wooden table, its years revealed in the kinds of dings and scratches furniture designers work to replicate. Warm, crusty baguettes lying around small bowls of soft butter, spicy radishes and crunchy fleur de sel. Cassoulet simmering on the stove.
Welcome to my fantasy.
(Well, my French Countryside fantasy. There are others—like the Glamour in Rome fantasy and the Gourmet Gallivant around Barcelona fantasy—for another time.)
But my life, this fantasy is not. More like messy brownstone in bustling city. Wine out of a dirty mug, if I’m lucky (or awake). Crayon scribbled table crowded with Kindergarten art supplies and Matchbox cars.
But you know that I don’t sacrifice on food. I play with cooking methods and am strategic about my shortcuts, it’s true, but—you know what’s coming—children change the way we cook, but they don’t have to change how well we eat. So cassoulet there will be. Simmering in my slow cooker.
Yea, you read correctly. My slow cooker.
This week marks the first ever Naptime Chef and Small Kitchen College slow cooker challenge, complete with slow cooker giveaways from Delonghi and Breville (more details below). When I was invited to participate in the challenge, I immediately ran through my favorite stews and slow cooked meat dishes. They are, after all, what I use my slow cooker for most. But then—and I can’t remember how this happened—I got sidetracked by my French Countryside fantasy. When I snapped to, everything was different. I had clarity. The kind that the French country air gives you.
There really isn’t much difference between making stew or cooking meat on the stove or in a slow cooker, so why stick to only the simplest braises in my slow cooker? Why not use my slow cooker to take on—and maybe even make accessible—a more complicated recipe? Why not use it to make cassoulet?
I had an idea of how I might approach cassoulet in the slow cooker, but did a quick recipe search that turned up this Slow Cooker Cassoulet by Thomas Keller. His ideas would surely be superior to mine, so I started there and adapted away.
Satisfied at having had an idea also had by one of the great chefs of our time (yes, it’s that easy), I began preparing. Soaking, cooking, browning and sauteing, and then leaving the slow cooker to do the rest. Beautifully, as it turns out.
My home, though drafty, may not be nestled in the French countryside. I may be too exhausted from wrangling small boys to bother with proper wine glasses. And despite a deep longing to spend entire days sipping wine while cooking, I may have to simplify recipes beyond which I normally would. But I—and my family—will eat well, always, nourished by good food, love and big dreams. I hope this recipe inspires you to do the same.
Be sure to check out the other fabulous recipes that are part of this week’s Slow Cooker Challenge and enter to win your very own slow cooker! A winner will be selected from each site (The Naptime Chef and Small Kitchen College), so enter on either (but check out both). Also, on Wednesday, January 18th from 12pm – 1pm, both sites will be hosting a live twitter chat along with Food52, OXO Good Grips and others. They will also be slow cooking on Facebook all day Thursday, January 19th when you’ll be able to enter to win a second prize-pack of OXO Good Grips kitchen tools. Find details on The Naptime Chef or Small Kitchen College.
Slow Cooker Cassoulet
adapted from Thomas Keller
(can be shared with children 6+ mos)*
4 ounces slab bacon cut into 1/4″ cubes (about 1 cup cubed)
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat & cut into approx 2″ cubes
Salt & pepper to taste, plus an additional 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 links fresh garlicky sausage (I used a perfect rabbit, herb & cream sausage; Chef Keller recommends fresh Spanish-style chorizo)
6 cups soaked, cooked & drained small white beans (about 1 lb dried; Chef Keller recommends Great Northern beans)
1 large onion, diced
1 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
2 tablespoons tomatoe paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cups drained & roughly chopped canned tomatoes
5 whole cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Chopped parsley, for garnish
1. Cook bacon in a large dutch oven set over medium heat. Once crisped, turn heat off and transfer bacon, along with 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat, from the dutch oven to your slow cooker. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the remaining rendered fat from the dutch oven.
2. Season pork with salt and pepper. Return heat to medium under the dutch oven and brown pork, in batches if necessary. Transfer browned pieces to the dutch oven. When all of the pork has been browned, drain all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the dutch oven. Brown the sausage. Turn the heat off, remove the sausage from the dutch oven, cut each link in half on a diagonal and transfer to the slow cooker. Pour the beans over the meat in the slow cooker. Again, drain all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the dutch oven.
3. Return the heat to medium under the dutch oven. Add onion and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt; saute until onions turn golden brown. Add wine; cook until reduced by half, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, broth and tomatoes. Cook for 3 minutes to bring the flavors together before pouring the onion mixture over the ingredients waiting in the slow cooker. Throw garlic cloves on top and, if necessary, using a serving spoon, shift things around to make sure that the liquid is evenly distributed through the slow cooker. Cook on high for 6 hours.
4. Right before serving, heat butter in a small saute pan. Once sizzling, add breadcrumbs and thyme. Toast until golden brown; remove from heat and stir into cassoulet. Serve cassoulet topped with a sprinkle of parsley.
*Note: You can puree a small serving—beans with or without meat—for eaters as young as 6+ months. Keep in mind that this is very rich. A small bit paired with whole grains and/or fresh veggies (pureed or cut into pieces, depending on the age of your little eater) makes a great meal.