Back in my veg days, Mom would pass along any vegetarian recipes she discovered that she thought I might find delicious and intriguing. One day she handed me two pages ripped from a magazine, "Southern Living," perhaps. On one page was a lengthy recipe for a traditional cassoulet -- the French slow-cooked, stew-like melange of various cuts of meat and white beans. On the second page was a recipe for "vegetarian cassoulet," the magazine's way of capturing the rustic soul of the cassoulet without all the pork and duck and mutton and goose. I squirreled the recipe away for a long time, awaiting the right winter day to try it out.
That day finally came, but it did not come until after I ceased being a vegetarian and began eating poultry. So while I maintained the majority of the recipe as originally written -- especially the inclusion of a rainbow of root vegetables in place of the meat -- I did substitute chicken stock for the called-for vegetable stock. You know, just for a little extra oomph. Not that there's anything wrong with vegetable stock. And today when I made this dish, I used my homemade turkey stock. (I couldn't bear to let the Thanksgiving turkey carcass go to waste and instead got busy the next day cooking an enormous batch of stock, which is now frozen in old-fashioned ice cube trays awaiting delicious applications over the coming year.) Out with the veg stock, in with the poultry.
So, this vegetarian cassoulet is not vegetarian.
Nor is it a cassoulet. The purists among you will no doubt take a look at this recipe and exclaim, "Cassoulet?! This is no cassoulet." It is just a simple matter of fact: one cannot make a vegetarian version of a dish that includes meat from several animals. Even though the root vegetables are filling and hearty, they are not duck legs and do not taste as such. Then there is the matter of the chickpeas. Traditional cassoulet includes white beans; this recipe calls for chickpeas. Of course you could substitute, but I like chickpeas as well and decided to leave the recipe as written. Without the significant meat content -- and without the white beans -- this dish is a cassoulet in name only. A better name for it might be root vegetable and chickpea stew.
Anyway. Regardless of its name, this dish is still really tasty -- perfect for an early-December frigid, windswept day. And if you're anything like me, you'll find it immensely gratifying to cook such an earthy dish in your perhaps-underutilized yet completely lovely Dutch oven. No matter if it is or is not vegetarian and/or a cassoulet.
VEGETARIAN (OR NOT) "CASSOULET"
I used a two-pound rutabaga for this recipe. When I selected it from the rutabaga basket at the grocery store and placed it in my cart, a man standing next to the kohlrabi who apparently was some sort of root-vegetable-weight-soothsayer muttered to me, "That one's two pounds." I weighed it at home and he was correct: 2.12 pounds.
1/4 c. unsalted butter
4 T. minced garlic, divided
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, stems removed and cut in half
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 t. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 t. dried oregano
1 c. dry white wine
3 T. tomato paste
1 20-oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
6 turnips, peeled and cut into fourths
4 large red potatoes, peeled and cut into fourths
1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large white or yellow onions, cut into eighths
6 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
1/2 c. olive oil
1 quart (32 oz.) vegetable, turkey or chicken stock
1/2 c. panko
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 T. of the garlic, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf, rosemary and oregano. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Heat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add the wine and tomato paste; cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and cook another 3 minutes. Remove the from heat; discard the bay leaf. Pour the chickpea mixture into a Dutch oven and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the remaining 2 T. garlic, turnips, potatoes, rutabaga, onions, carrots, salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss to combine, then pour the root vegetable mixture into an aluminum foil-lined roasting pan. Bake at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
Remove the vegetables from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spoon the roasted vegetables over the chickpea mixture in the Dutch oven. Pour the broth over the vegetables. Sprinkle with panko. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 1/2 hours, until vegetables are tender. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve with a massive hunk of crusty bread.
Makes 12 generous servings.