What is comforting about winter, you ask? It's cold, dark, and windy. Snowy. Icy. I shudder at the cold. I think I have a condition where my extremities don't get enough circulation, so anytime it falls below 70 degrees, my hands get like ice. One of the many reasons to keep moving, and keep cooking! The most comforting thing to me about winter is FOOD!
When most people think of comfort food, they think of heavy, creamy, full dishes. I think of a few of those myself, but comfort food (especially winter comfort food) does not have to be really heavy. It can be tasty and warm and spicy, but not leave you feeling like you ate a rock. Which is why I like this cassoulet dish. I got the recipe from my dear sister a couple years ago, and I'm not sure where she got it from. I did some research on the origins of cassoulet and this version wanders a bit from the original but is still delicious.
Cassoulet was born in the south of France. It consists of white beans and meat and is cooked in a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides called a cassole. (I saw something similar recently at Wild Yam Pottery -- now it's on my mind to get it just to make cassoulet!) It was traditional to deglaze the pot from the previous cassoulet to give it a deep, earthy flavor, which has led to stories of an original cassoulet extending for years.
For my cassoulet, I used bison sausage. Bison meat is lower in fat and calories than other meats such as beef, pork, and even chicken. It is a good source of iron and vitamin B-12. If you like red meat, you'll like bison, as long as you view it not as a replacement for beef but as a delicious meat on its own. I don't eat a lot of red meat but in certain dishes it just shines. The bison sausage was flavored with maple and ginger and had a bit of a kick to it. If you're in the Baltimore area, I used local GBT bison meat.
Add to the meat thyme, potatoes, beans, tomato sauce, and red wine, cook for an hour and a half, and the dish you pull out of your oven turns into a wondrous thing. And your house has a wondrous smell. And your spouse/friend/roommate/dog thinks you're a wondrous creature for making such delicious food. I like to eat this dish with a glass of red wine and a Christmas movie with my husband and cat on either side of me. Winter comfort at its best.
Serves 4, unless you have a very hungry husband, in which case it serves 2
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large links (about 2 cups) local, sustainable sausage (I used maple-ginger bison sausage)
2 large baking potatoes
1 cup dry white beans
1 cup dry black beans
1 cup dry kidney beans
1 can (or 1 cup) tomato sauce
1 cup wine
2 tablespoons dried thyme (or 1/4 cup fresh thyme)
1 teaspoon salt
1) The night before, soak 1 cup each black beans, white beans, and kidney beans in a pot with enough water to cover it well. After soaking, drain water and cover well with fresh water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, adding 1 teaspoon salt during the last 15 minutes of cooking
2) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove the casings from the sausage. Heat oil in large skillet. Brown the sausage over medium heat, turning to brown each side evenly. Let cool a bit and chop into 1 inch pieces. Add to rectangular glass casserole dish.
2) Scrub and peel the potatoes. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Add to dish, along with remaining ingredients. Stir to coat everything with tomato sauce and wine. Bake for 1.5 hours in a 375 degree oven.
You can make this dish ahead and freeze it without cooking it. Let thaw in refrigerator before cooking. You can also cook it and then freeze it.
What is your favorite winter comfort food?