deconstructing cassoulet, for bastille day

deconstructed cassoulet with a green salad 

When it comes to the national days of countries other than Oz, I’m afraid to say that I’m sadly ignorant. But there is one exception. Ever since I began my love affair with France, while studying their beautiful language in high school, I’ve had a soft spot for Bastille Day. For some reason, every year on July 14th I feel the urge to celebrate with the French in some way or other.

Last year it was an intimate dinner with my good friends Toby and Paula. Rustic coq au vin and crusty sourdough baguette with a not-so-French pear and pecan crumble. Simple but good. This year, however, with the aforementioned holiday falling on a Saturday night, I decided to go all out and make the most of my new larger (and dishwasher equipped!) kitchen and assembled a mixed bunch of friends and friends-of-friends.

My heart was set on cassoulet but as I started to plan the meal I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to fit cassoulet for eight people in my trusty le creuset. And then it came to me. A deconstructed cassoulet. Perfect, Keep the duck legs whole; one per person and serve the bean, pork and sausage part in the pot at the table for everyone to appreciate its crusty goodness. A green salad passed separately. All good.

Souffle has to be one of the most French sounding of dishes and combine it with chocolate and you are sure to be on a winner. That is unless you have the less than brilliant idea to get your guests to bring their favourite cheese. A pot luck cheese course may seem like fun but unfortunately we cheese deprived people of Oz haven’t yet learnt the gentle French art of moderation. Yeah the whole idea of choosing just one or two cheeses seems impossible down under. And when there was everything from pungent Roquefort to creamy perfectly ripe Brie, a lovely Ossau Iraty from the Pyrenees and crumbly cheddar just to name a few who could resist? So much to the relief of our straining bellies the soufflé was postponed for another meal….viva la france…

a bastille day celebration dinner
celeriac soup with burnt walnut oil
deconstructed cassoulet with a green salad
pot luck cheese
chocolate soufflés with vanilla icecream and hot chocolate sauce

celeriac soup with burnt walnut oil
serves 8-10

There’s nothing like a soup as a mid winter opening to a meal. I love how at the one time it can be both warming and homely but still elegant enough to set the mood for a formal occasion.

2 large celeriac, approx 1.6kg
2T olive oil
125g unsalted butter
2 brown onions, peeled & chopped
2 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
4 ribs celery, chopped
1/3C extra virgin olive oil
50g walnuts
1/2C cream

Preheat oven to 200C. Peel celeriac and chop into wedges approx 8 pieces per celeriac. Toss with 2T oil in a large roasting pan and roast for 40-50mins or until golden and softened. Meanwhile heat butter over a medium low heat in a large saucepan and add remaining vegetables. Cover and cook stirring occasionally for 20-30mins or until vegetables are well softened but not brown. Add baked celeriac and 1.5L water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered for another 30mins or until all the veg are well cooked through. Puree in a food processor, pass through a sieve and return to the pan. Season well.

For walnut oil heat walnuts and 1/3C oil in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the walnuts are very well toasted. Allow to cool and then puree in a food processor.

When ready to serve stir cream through the soup and bring to a simmer. Divide between warmed soup bowls and top with a swirl of walnut oil.

deconstructed cassoulet with a green salad
serves 8-10

Cassoulet is one of those rustic and incredibly hearty dishes that you can’t help but love. For a more elegant dinner party feel you could serve it in individual ramekins but it is quite fun to plonk your cherry red le Creuset in the middle of the table and let everyone dig in.

I’ve used my new favourite cheats version of duck confit, pot roasted duck legs but feel free to substitute in the more traditional confit homemade or purchased. If you are cooking the duck yourself things can get a little tricky with oven space. I did my cassoulet ahead and let it sit for the flavours to develop while the duck was cooking and then when it was time to crisp up the bread crumbs had the cassoulet on the bottom shelf and the duck on the top shelf. If you’re pressed for time you could simmer the cassoulet on the stove top while your duck bakes in the oven, the possibilities are endless really.

500g dried small white beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 small onion, peeled
4 cloves
2T olive oil
200g smoked spec or bacon, chopped into thick  matchsticks
3 brown onions, peeled and diced
2 carrots, finely diced
125mL (1/2C) red or white wine
2 x 400g cans tinned cherry or roma tomatoes
1kg lean rindless pork belly cut into 2-3 large pieces
500mL chicken stock
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
3 large duck sausages (or pork) cut on the diagonal into 2cm thick slices
200g fresh sourdough breadcrumbs
2T olive oil or duck fat
8-10 pot roasted duck legs (recipe below) or duck confit
green salad, to serve

Drain beans and place in a large saucepan. Spike the onion with your cloves and add to the beans. Cover generously with cold clean water and bring to a simmer. Cook for approx 40mins or until beans are tender but still a little firm.  Drain beans and discard onion.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160C. Heat oil over a medium heat in a large cast iron casserole dish. Add spec, onions and carrots and cook stirring periodically until spec is browned and the onion is softened. Add wine and stir to combine. Add tomatoes pork belly, stock, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Transfer to the oven and cook uncovered for an hour.

Add cooked and drained beans and sliced sausages to the pot and stir. Return to the oven and cook for another 1-2 hours or until pork belly is tender. Stir every 20mins or so and if the mixture is starting to dry out cover with a tight fitting lid. Season well.

Increase oven temp to 200C. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the surface of the casserole and drizzle with extra oil or duck fat. Bake for 30-40mins or until crumbs are deep golden and crunchy and everything is bubbling. When the cassoulet has been in the oven for about 20mins place your pot roasted duck legs or duck confit on the top shelf to reheat and crispen up.

To serve, divide hot duck legs between plates. Place cassoulet in the middle of the table for everyone to serve themselves and pass a green salad separately.

pot roasted duck legs
serves 8
Adapted from Jared Ingersoll’s Shared Plates.

This is my new favourite way to cook duck. The results are in the duck confit spectrum without having to invest the time or copious amounts of duck fat. Super moist rich meat that falls off the bone with nicely browned crispy skin, it’s hard to go past. Toss in the amazingly sweet duck fat cooked onions and you’re on a real winner.

More than two hours does seem like a very long time to cook a couple of duck legs but trust me the results are worth the wait.

8 duck legs (marylands)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch thyme
4 white onions, halved and finely sliced
1/4C chicken stock or waterPreheat oven to 200C. Pick the leaves from half the bunch of thyme and combine with chopped garlic. Rub over duck legs, season with salt and pepper and then place in a casserole dish just large enough to hold the duck in a single layer. Scatter over the remaining thyme sprigs, onion and stock. Cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven.
Reduce temp to 180C and cook for 2 hours turning every 20mins or so. When duck is very tender uncover and cook for a further 20mins or until the skin is nicely browned.
Divide duck and onion between plates and serve hot.

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  • A cheesy pudding is often the best sort!

    I like the idea of serving the cassoulet and the duck legs separately. I imagine it makes it a bit easier to dish up too – everybody gets some duck and then people can adjust the salad and cassoulet themselves according to their appetite. It looks beautiful from the pictures so I can see why they had no room left for souffle!

  • Lovely… You’ve completely demystified the art of making cassoulet! And I am in awe of your photos and how ‘light’ you make this dish look.

  • The burnt walnut oil sounds (and looks) like a great and flavourful addition to the celeriac soup. Lovely.

  • Oh I am soooooo cooking this recipe on the weekend – I love duck and this makes it so simple – some nice red cabbage and we are good to go. Love the blog – juices start flowing the minute I see the pictures.

  • The duck recipe looks terrific. I’ll be trying it soon.

    Bastille Day at our California beach house involved the roasting of a whole lamb — a project that filled me with Major Fears , but proved to be a big success. Chicken liver pate from the Michael Field’s Cooking School cookbook and financieres from Dorie Greenspan’s “Paris Sweets” were other hits with our guests, but I cooked way too much of everything. 35 guests sounded like a lot when I was doing the planning but I could have fed twice that many.

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