We finished up sap gathering and syrup boiling a week and a half ago. We went through the woods and removed the taps from the maple trees, and as we did so we gave each tree a hug and thanked it for its sap (if you think I'm joking, you don't know us very well...; Happy Earth Day, by the way!).
It was fascinating to see the gradations in syrup color as we went through the season, from pale amber to something quite tarry-looking in the last pint we cooked down. It's a delight to see all the jars lined up. There are Christmas presents there for family and friends (sorry to ruin the surprise...); for us, there's something both delicious and significant glowing in those jars, the work of our first season sugaring on the land at Bide-A-Wee.
Naturally, with all that beautiful sweet stuff in the house, I've been looking for ways to use it, and one of the best we've tried so far is this "Cassoulet Carcajou," a casserole of cannellinis cooked in a cocotte, accompanying crisp confit de canard. (That really wasn't even hard....)
Whether you like maple syrup or you don't--and I know there are those who find it too sweet, too intense, go figure--all can agree that a little goes a long way. So just a couple of tablespoons infuses this bean pot with the fragrance of the sugar bush, and a subtle sweetness that complements the savory beans, bacon, and onions.
A true south-of-France cassoulet is an epic dish, cooked a long day or two and heavy on meats of various kinds, according to region--lamb, fresh and cured pork, sausages, confit of duck or goose. This abbreviated version, a cross between Boston baked beans and the French classic, is not a quick dish to prepare--it must cook slowly for three hours or more. But you just set it up, stick it in a low oven, and go about your day. Something both homely and fantastically delicious awaits you.
This is certainly hearty enough to serve as a main dish, with a salad and crusty bread. We each had a heaping serving (and seconds) with our confit, and then I got two lunches out of the leftovers.
Here's an earlier post with the method for duck confit .
Carcajou is the French-Canadian name for the wolverine. I'll discuss its significance in my next post.
Cassoulet Carcajou (Sugar Bush Bean Pot)
serves four as a side dish, two as a main course
1 cup dried cannellini beans (7 ounces, wgt.)
1 cup water
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
2 ounces slab bacon, in 1/2-inch cubes (save the rind if you have it)
1 1/2 tsp good mustard, grain or dijon
2 Tbsp real maple syrup
1 bay leaf
1 small dried red chili, broken in half
a few sprigs fresh thyme
ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup bread crumbs tossed with a bit of fat--soft butter, duck fat, bacon fat, or oil
Place the beans in a saucepan with water to cover by an inch or so. Bring to a boil and cook at a fast simmer for ten minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 15 minutes or more. Drain the beans, discarding the water.
Combine the beans with all the other ingredients except the salt and bread crumbs in a glass or ceramic casserole, preferably one with a cover. If you have the rind from the bacon, place it on top of the mixture.
Cover the casserole and place it in a preheated 275-degree oven. Bake for 2 hours. After two hours, remove the lid add the salt, and top with half the bread crumbs. Bake for another hour. Taste a bean to see if they're becoming tender. They should be quite tender at this point; if they're not, continue baking until they are, and add a little more water if the beans are becoming dry.
Raise the oven temp to 325. Push the breadcrumbs already on the beans down into the liquid. Sprinkle the rest of the breadcrumbs over the top, and bake until they are golden and the beans are tender, about 20 minutes more.
Serve piping hot, as a main dish or side, with a little extra drizzle of maple syrup, if you like.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw