Baby and I were just enthralled watching DVDs of Julia Child's show The French Chef and became so inspired that we decided to really try and utilize any of the many cookbooks filling the shelves in our pantry more frequently. The French Chef Cookbook that features recipes from the ground-breaking show was a natural to start with and first up was Cassoulet (The Thirty-ninth Show)! And you must say it as she would have, like a flute stuffed with cotton. Cassoulet!
Now, we don't shy away from the complicated meals, the ones that take a week to prepare. Ask our recent guests that reveled in Onion Soup, Lobster Yorkshire Puddings with a vanilla chive sauce and tarragon chiffonade as a precedent to our Filet Mignon (with homemade demi glace) and a side of asparagus drizzled with Michael Lomonaco's Shallot Champagne Vinaigrette from '21'. But we certainly picked a doozy to start out with in recreating Julia's Cassoulet. We started on Monday, and finished on Friday, shortly before our guests arrived.
Apart from the food served, the success of any dinner party hinges upon the guests involved. Ours were split into three camps, who were excited for three different reasons. For the Sisters M, Cassoulet is their favorite thing, and they immediately set out to find red wines for a perfect pairing; Slushy had never tried the dish before; and Islip (Slushy's boyfriend) had never heard of anybody taking a week to prepare a meal. I recently learned that we inspired him to make a somewhat elaborate meal of his own for Slushy. That's perhaps the most exciting news.
Once we had settled on our main dish and the guests involved, I started thinking about what else to serve--and I must say that everything we created for this meal was a really wonderful journey. So Cassoulet is probably the most hearty dish ever, right? I didn't want to serve cheeses, meats, or anything else to weigh our guests down. I remembered from years back a friend had served salted radishes with butter as a starter. Perfect! I kept the leafy greens intact and spread them across an olive wood cutting board with a ramekin of butter on the side. Not only did it all look gorgeous by the flicker of candlelight, the radishes were quickly devoured.
Recalling an article from Saveur (my favorite magazine, I've kept every issue--it features Reese's Cups as readily as it does foie gras), I thought an elegant platter of white asparagus with pink-tinged tips would make for a superb first course. It certainly wowed our friends, and never having made it before, wowed Baby and I as well. It was Saveur that taught us to shave the tough skin of white asparagus, which you don't have to do with the green variety, and simmer the stalks in water with butter, lemon and salt (I assume to remove the bitterness). I added Bay leaves to the water for another layer of flavor. Riffing on the aforementioned Shallot Champagne Vinaigrette, I brushed a blend of lemon and oregano infused olive oils, garlic, and white wine vinegar on the asparagus.
The Cassoulet was well worth the time spent. It was decidedly a hit! We had prepared our lamb on Monday, and made our sausage cakes. Tuesday, we roasted the pork! As we had theater tickets on Wednesday, we took the night off. Thursday, we soaked our beans and prepared for the final assembly. Then the Cassoulet only had to bake for an hour before it was ready to go.
We had just planned on serving lemon sorbet with basil for dessert but I was unsatisfied with that. How do you serve something as rich as Cassoulet and then cap it off with sorbet? No, we needed a bejeweled crown. Then the March issue of Gourmet magazine arrived with a recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Clafoutis ("somewhere between custard and cake") and it was easy as pie. Most of it's done in a blender and couldn't be more jaw-dropping.
Et voila, mes cheres, here we have a perfect evening suited for Cassoulet!
Soundtrack: Martinis with Mancini; Austin Powers Soundtrack; Serge Gainsbourg, Couleur Cafe; Paris Combo, living-room