Friday, January 9, 2015

Truffled Cauliflower Cassoulet with Shiitake-Garlic Confit and Parmesan Thyme Biscuits

Cassoulet and confit are funny things to me. Both originated in France as peasant food, with confit in particular being a way to preserve meat to eat throughout the winter. The stuff was not fancy. 

But nowadays it's rare to go to an upscale restaurant that you don't see confit of some kind (you can make confit of just about anything--meat, vegetable or fruit). When it comes to cassoulet, people get fierce! Just doing some background research on what exactly cassoulet is I came across lots of gnashing of teeth... 

...over what was once a peasant dish. 

And you get all these people with what they think is the best possible cassoulet. Some people say it needs breadcrumbs. Some people say it should never have breadcrumbs. The only constant I found among recipes was a reliance on white beans (and duck, but of course, that is irrelevant here). Apparently towns in France bicker over the true origin and to this day get their panties in a twist if you don't think their town is the true creator of the dish. 

If I'm being honest, this is the only part about the whole mess that I understand. I can commiserate because once, ONCE, Colorado tried to co-opt green chile as their own. I'm from New Mexico. And I may live in Colorado now, but I'm still bitter about that. You can't have it all you rat-bastards. The only green chile you will ever own will come in a bushel bag labelled Hatch, NM, and that is that!

But I digress. So now people have taken this peasant food, which was made with what people had on hand to feed legitimately hungry bellies, and now it's this crazy fancy ridiculous dish that rich people eat while feeling self-righteous about their money. I think an apt comparison would be perhaps if we jumped 300 years into the future and suddenly Hot Pockets are haute cuisine. It's equally absurd as the current cassoulet situation. 

I may have been a "foodie" at one point in my life, but I have a thing against pretentiousness, so that didn't last. I genuinely like food, and I don't really care what others think I should think about food. People have all these recipes for "Best Cassoulet and **** Confit Ever!" which is think is ridiculous. There's no way anyone will ever make the best of anything. I'm convinced that no matter how good you think your dish is, there is someone out there who will whole-heartedly hate it.  Which is why I think that we should eat what we actually enjoy and think tastes good, and be creative about it instead of always trying to be "the best." Food is not like a marathon which has objective and easily measurable "bests" and "worsts." Food is subjective.

So basically, I've taken cassoulet as an inspiration and ran with it. I've used beer instead of wine because I normally have beer and I never buy wine. This is 'merica, (and I was inspired by the Leek and Bean Cassoulet recipe in Veganomicon), so I have added biscuits. I've added truffle oil as a kind of sarcastic nod to how pretentious this dish has become and to push it over the top (on the ridiculous charts!).

But, after all that, I think this is the perfect dish for those cold January Sunday evenings. It takes a while to make, but the result is pretty amazing. The shiitakes give a meaty flavor and bite, the biscuits make it hearty and satisfying, and the cauliflower and truffle flavor melt together with the thyme and thaw you inside and out.

EDIT: I now realize tomorrow is National Cassoulet Day. My timing couldn't be better to piss off some foodies with this sacrilege! 

Truffled Cauliflower Cassoulet with Shiitake-Garlic Confit and Parmesan Thyme Biscuits

Time: 3 1/2 hours total, 1 hour active

Serves: 4 to 6

For the Shiitake-Garlic Confit

10 garlic cloves
3 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems still on
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 cups warm water
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Remove the skins from the garlic cloves and rinse the shiitakes with water. In a large bowl, combine the warm water and salt, and then add the shiitakes and garlic. Let sit for at least an hour. Strain garlic and shiitakes, and then thinly slice the shiitakes.

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and sliced shiitakes, cover and let cook for an hour. The point of confit is to cook the vegetable in oil over low heat (as opposed to frying it). 

Remove from heat. If not using immediately, pour into heat-safe container and refrigerate.

For the Parmesan Thyme Biscuits (adapted from Well's Vegetarian Thanksgiving 2012)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegan parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup vegan margarine, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup non-dairy milk

While the confit cooks, start the biscuits. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt, parmesan, and thyme. Add the chopped margarine and combine with two forks until the mixture resembles cornmeal (a few small lumps of margarine are fine). Alternatively, you can use a food processor, pulsing the mixture until it resembles cornmeal. Add the non-dairy milk and mix until just combined.

Move the dough to a cutting board. Using your fingers, press the dough out into a 10-inch circle (about 1-inch thick). Using a knife, slice the circle into six pizza style wedges. Set aside until the cassoulet is ready to go into the oven.

For the Cassoulet

1 recipe of the confit (above)
1 onion, diced
1 large head of cauliflower, broken into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup pale ale
2 15 oz cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 sprigs of thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons truffle oil

Heat a 12-inch cast iron (or other oven-safe) skillet over medium-high heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shiitakes and garlic from the confit mixture and put into mixture. Reserve the rest of the oil for another use (but be sure to refrigerate it and use within a few days, because it otherwise can potentially be a botulism risk).

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Once the mushrooms and garlic are sizzling, add the onion, and sauté until translucent, about five minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until wilted slightly and reduced in volume. Add the beer, bring to a boil and reduce sightly. In a measuring cup, combine the broth and cornstarch. Add the beans, cornstarch mixture, and truffle oil to the pan. Stir until combined well and remove from heat.

Lay the biscuit wedges over the cassoulet, leaving some room between each wedge. Place the entire pan in the oven, and bake for 35 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden.

Remove the cassoulet, turn off your stove, and you are FINALLY done!

But it will be worth it. Promise.


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