Here at June Farms General Store, we find ourselves craving the food that originated in farm homes. These dishes don’t require fancy techniques or ingredients meant for a king. They do, however, require time, love, passion and the freshest ingredients, free from preservatives, fillers and anything else you can’t pronounce.
Cassoulet is one of those dishes.
Cassoulet is a classic, French farm dish and is iconic in the region around Toulouse (near the Spanish border) where it is said to have originated. The first time I had cassoulet in France, I fell in love. But my most distinct memory of the dish happened five or six years ago during a romantic getaway. It was the winter, the weather was cold, windy and rainy. We ran from our AirBnB around the corner to the closest, open restaurant called Brasserie de l’Ile Saint-Louis. It was completely empty and we took a window table so that we could stare at the backside of Notre Dame. We ordered Cassoulet for Two and a sturdy bottle of red.
What happened after that is a foggy haze of rich, creamy Tarbais beans, a variety of succulent pork products and the world’s most incredible duck leg confit. The first bite always induces a pause, catching the eye of your dinner mate as you slow your chewing to fully appreciate what is happening in your mouth.
The white beans turn into something like the texture of crème brulée. Rich, luxurious and with a deep, complex flavor that can only be achieved through days of cooking (yes, days… you read that correctly). Every fork full (or tablespoon, really) reveals a new combination of flavors on your palate. Various sausages and meats, carrots, maybe tomato?... and then you reward yourself with the duck confit. Slow poached in its own fat for hours, the meat is as tender as a ripe plum. You try to eat slowly, thoughtfully, but surely that is only something the French can do as they have enjoyed a lifetime of gorgeous cassoulet whenever the chill of Autumn and Winter settled in.
We didn’t speak much during that meal, but we didn’t need words. The semi-audible utterances of ‘mmmmm….’ and ‘ohhhhhh….’ transcended the words we might have chosen to describe our experience. Because the French are so wise, the torn chunks of baguette were already waiting for us to mop up the rich, stewy liquid that had bathed our food for many hours of cooking over the course of three or four days. At last there was not a single shred of evidence of the cassoulet’s existence once we had finished. Just the aroma of one of the greatest labors of love ever developed by a farmer’s wife, likely using whatever bits and scraps and leftovers were available – most of which could survive a winter without refrigeration, preserved/cured/smoked or packed in their own fat. These mothers of invention have left us with the holy grail of pork, duck and the humble bean.
While Notre Dame may not be outside your window as you feast on our Cassoulet Pot Pie (unless you live in South Bend, Indiana…), we hope that the dish takes you on a trip to France in your mind. Whether you’ve actually visited or not, we always find that food can transport you with one beautiful bite.