Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chicken and Butternut Squash Cassoulet

 The main course for our Christmas dinner on Sunday will be Duck Confit.  I've never made confit before so I've been digging through cookbooks looking at different recipes and techniques -- Ruhlman's Charcuterie, Keller's Ad Hoc at Home, and of course, anything by Julia Child. While perusing the C section of these various indices, I couldn't help but check out recipes for cassoulet as well.  I have a couple of lesser-known Julia Child cookbooks in addition to the obvious choice of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One, Julia Child's Menu Cookbook,  includes a menu for Cassoulet for a Crowd -- Consomme au Porto, Toasted Armenian Cracker Bread, Cassoulet with Goose, Lamb and Sausages, Red Pickled Cabbage, and Sliced Fresh Pineapple - En Boat.  Quite the feast!  Julia begins this cassoulet by making goose confit.  The version published in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, leaves out the goose, but includes homemade sausage cakes along with pork shoulder and lamb. This recipe is prefaced with a section entitled "A Note on the Order of the Battle", conjuring images of a PERT diagram.   All of this sounds absolutely divine to me, but decidedly time-consuming and not terribly heart-healthy.  My version is quite a bit quicker and easier, and decidedly better for you.

Cassoulet is essentially beans cooked with meat.  Admittedly, my Chicken and Butternut Squash Cassoulet  is non-traditional.  While, by all accounts, a great debate rages on in France about the origin and proper composition of a cassoulet, neither the cooks from Castelnaudary nor those from Toulouse used chicken, turkey sausage and canned beans.  The traditional versions don't include much in the way of vegetables beyond onion, while a bowl of mine provides the diner with a healthy serving of vitamin-rich butternut squash.

The jumping off point for my cassoulet  is this Cooking Light recipe for Chicken Cassoulet with Acorn Squash.  I changed up both the ingredients and the cooking technique a bit (why in the world would you boil vegetables when you can add so much more flavor by roasting them?). We found the resulting dish to be perfectly delicious and nutritious winter comfort food. My children devoured it.

Chicken and Butternut Squash Cassoulet

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash (1/2-inch dice)
  • 1 cup diced carrot (1/2-inch dice)
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  •  1/3 cup Calvados
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes with oregano
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat leaf parsley (plus extra to garnish)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 14.5 ounce cans Cannellini beans
  • 1/2 pound smoked turkey sausage
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread the squash and carrot in a single layer on a baking pan.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss to coat. 
  3. Roast the vegetables for 15-20 minutes until they have begun to turn brown and caramelize slightly.  
  4. After removing the vegetables from the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees.
  5. While the vegetables roast, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook for 5-10 minutes until they begin to brown.
  6. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, then use the Calvados to deglaze the pan.
  7. Turn the heat down to low and add the tomatoes, thyme, parsley, basil, salt and pepper.
  8. Put the beans in a medium bowl and smash about half using a potato masher.  Stir the beans into the pot and simmer on low heat while you prep the other ingredients.
  9. Slice the sausage lengthways, then cut into 1/4-inch slices.
  10. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the sausage and cook for 5-10 minutes until the sausage has some crusty texture.  Add the sausage to the pot.
  11. Slice the bacon crossways into 3/4-inch slices.  Fry the bacon until crispy.  Using a slotted spoon, add the bacon to the pot.
  12. Add the chicken breasts to the skillet and cook in the bacon fat until cooked through, flipping once, about 10 minutes. 
  13. Remove the skillet from the heat.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and chop into 1-inch chunks.
  14. Add the bacon fat and the chopped chicken to the pot. Stir to combine.
  15. Cover the pot and bake the cassoulet for an hour.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour

A green salad tossed with vinaigrette, some crusty wheat rolls and a nice bottle of red wine were the perfect accompaniments.

While this is not a dish that you want to come home and make after work on a weeknight, it makes for a not-too-demanding Sunday afternoon cooking project.  The leftovers were fabulous -- this cassoulet is a great one-pot meal you can make ahead and then rewarm for a night when there is no time to cook.


kzooknoedel said...

This looks great. Would love to try it. I had to look up what Calvados is. Obviously I don't have any. Is there something else that would be a good substitute for that? Or could I leave it out?

Lynn said...

Thanks. Calvados is a French apple brandy. The original recipe calls for madeira or apple cider. I think it would be fine if you left it out completely.