Last fall Derek and I went to Metz for the day. (It’s an hour away by train, so it makes a nice day trip.) Saturday is their farmer’s market, and I searched every stand trying to find things that I can’t buy find in my local market. I bought a beautiful braid of garlic, a bag of harissa paste, lots of French cheeses, some fresh beans (whose name I couldn’t understand), and a bag of dried flageolet beans. I’ve never eaten flageolet beans before, or even seen them. Mine were small, pale-green, kidney-shaped beans. Georgeanne Brennan says they have an intense bean flavor that brings their particular character to a dish, they hold their shape when cooked, and they do not lose their integrity even when combined with other ingredients.
Inspired by our trip last week to Paris, I decided to make a French dinner on Friday night, using recipes from my new French cookbook (“The Vegetarian Table: France”).
We started with a salad made from steamed fennel and beets topped with mustard vinaigrette, slices of hard boiled eggs, and chervil (kerbil in German). I don’t know chervil is supposed to be “delicate”, but I couldn’t taste it at all when combined with the other ingredients. I think I steamed the fennel a tad too long, as it looked a little pale and limp. If I were being graded, I definitely would have failed the presentation component. My salad was ugly. Nonetheless, it tasted pretty good. Derek made the mustard vinaigrette (also from a recipe in The Vegetarian Table: France), and it was okay, but I found it a little bland and oily. The next day the fennel was really limp and sad-looking. Neither Derek nor I could eat it.
As a main course I made a cassoulet with my flageolet beans. I was a bit nervous as cassoulet normally has tons of animal fat in it, and whenever I’ve tried making veggie cassoulet before, it has not turned out well. This recipe called for two sub-recipe though–it was complicated enough that I figured it just might work out.
The first sub-recipe was for Tomato Coulis–essentially tomatoes cooked down to a thick, sweet puree and seasoned with a little sugar, pepper, thyme, and garlic. I used canned whole tomatoes rather than fresh ones, and thus it was a pretty simple recipe to make. I kept it at a low simmer and it cooked down nicely without burning or sticking. I made only half the recipe, and I think it made more than enough.
The second sub-recipe was for onion confit. It’s essentially onions roasted with butter, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper on a cookie sheet in the oven. I cut the recipe in half, which I think was a mistake. There weren’t enough onions on the cookie sheet and so the onions started to crisp up and burn. Brennan doesn’t say what texture the onions are supposed to have, but I don’t think she was shooting for crispy onion rings. But maybe I just cut the onions wrong. Brennan says to cut the onions into slices, but I wasn’t sure if the slices should be through the equator or pole-to-pole. I tried both ways. The concentric rings tended to stay together and soft, whereas the pole-to-pole slices tended to stick up in all directions and burn at the edges. The onion confit called for fresh winter savory, which I could not find anywhere, so I just used extra thyme and some dried savory.
The flageolet beans are cooked in lightly salted water until tender. The beans are drained and some of the cooking liquid is reserved. In my 3-quart casserole pan I heated a little confit and then added the tomato couli and some seasoning. I added the reserved bean liquid and the beans and confit and mixed everything together. The last step is to make some bread crumbs, mix them with butter and herbs, and sprinkle them over the top. The cassoulet is baked until bubbly and then slipped under the broiler for a few minutes.
The cassoulet was good! The tomato adds sweetness and the onions add rich savoriness, and all the thyme and savory and black pepper seasoned the dish well. I did wish that the cassoulet was slightly creamier–it seemed almost a bit dry. But the flavor was definitely there. Derek liked the dish a lot. He ate all the leftovers up happily, along with extra tomato coulis. He even suggested I make it next Thanksgiving!
For our dessert / final course I served a cheese plate composed of French cheeses.