This fall has been a beautiful season of appreciation for me – in the kitchen, out in nature and in my personal life. As Thanksgiving approaches, I am almost overwhelmed with gratitude this year. My husband and I were able to move to the mountains of North Carolina, back to my family home, to spend a dedicated time with family through the illness and passing of my father. I owe him a huge debt of thanks for the many profound life lessons he shared with me and for the very heightened appreciation of nature and the outdoors.
My emphasis on seasonal eating is very much wrapped up in how I was raised and the rhythm of life that was instilled in me through the way my family lived in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. Our garden was a focal point of everyday life, and so it is for me still. What is in season is the predominant question I ask myself when thinking of food and nourishment.
This delicata squash and bean cassoulet, another dish from my love affair with the Rhubarb Restaurant of Asheville, NC, highlights the seasonality of the late summer and autumn garden. Having a stock pile of winter squashes in the pantry and jars of dried beans leads to endless possibilities in the kitchen.
The aroma of dried beans cooking takes me back to the days when my grandmother had to stretch the family budget and “put on a pot of beans” to make the meal go around for anyone who may show up at the table. What a sweet memory. Today I don’t consider cooking beans an exercise in frugality, but rather a satisfying way to bring the end of the summer garden alive in the kitchen on shorter days when the garden has been laid aside.
Walking through the garden in my mind, the trellised “shell beans” begin to wither and the pods of the beans are more obvious on the vines as the leaves fade – all in concert with the days getting shorter and the air becoming crisp. Also, the same thing is happening to the lovely winter squashes. You can recognize they are ready to harvest when the broad leaves begin to wither a bit. Natures way of saying “it’s time to take in… get ready for the cold”.
Most of us are not quite in touch with the garden and with nature like this, but we do have an innate sense of the harvest as we approach Thanksgiving, don’t we? Slower cooking, lingering and complex aromas, one-dish meals… bring on the comfort foods.
I hope this cassoulet dish brings you comfort and nourishment and that you are finding ways to express your gratitude to those around you through the love that comes from your kitchen.
The delicata squash becomes tender in about 25-30 minutes at 350. I love to use my clay cooker for roasting hard winter squashes whole BEFORE I cut them in half – a dreaded task if cutting them before they are cooked.
Preparing the cranberry beans in a dutch oven could not be simpler. Beans taste so much better when slow cooked rather than from a can, but if you do not have time, opt for the canned beans! This is not a huge compromise.
Sauteed leeks, oyster mushrooms and Swiss chard are added to the tender beans. This mixture gets ladeled back in to the delicata squash halves, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs, it goes back in to a low and slow oven for about 2 hours to cook down and become one dish “cassoulet”. The texture and flavor are amazing – silky, complex and satisfying.
This is the perfect dish to cook in my “la cloche” cooker. I love cooking in clay. The moisture and heat control is very good for most things roasted in the oven. It’s like a mini-brick oven affect. Rustic food cooked in rustic cooking vessels – so pretty. I hope you get the chance to prepare this dish. If you do not have local cranberry beans available (either fresh or dried), then I would recommend taking a moment to browse and look at Rancho Gordo beans for a fabulous selection of heirlooms. This is one of those cool companies that has a great story. Do yourself a favor and check it out!!
Enjoy the celebration of the season and prepare a winter squash with cranberry bean cassoulet. Simple…. Rustic… Beautiful. Might it be perfect for Thanksgiving weekend when you have had all the traditional foods you may want? Sunday supper? Anytime, really…
- ½ lb Cranberry Beans
- 1 cup Chopped Mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion, parsley and a bay leaf)
- 2 sprig Fresh Thyme
- 2 large Leeks
- ¼ lb Dried Oyster Mushrooms
- ½ lb Swiss Chard or Kale
- 2-3 clove Fresh Garlic
- 1 teaspoon Dried Thyme
- 1 teaspoon Dried Marjoram
- salt and white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 2-3 tablespoon Olive Oil
- ½ sheet Kombu
- "Look" your beans and then soak the Cranberry Beans overnight if using dried ones. Alternatively, you could boil them in water for two minutes, then soak in the boiling liquid for one hour. Drain and re-fill with clean water. *If using fresh cranberry beans, you can skip the pre-soak. Add the mirepoix to the pot of beans - celery, carrot, onion, parsley, garlic clove and bay leaf. Add a piece of "kombu" to your cooking liquid for wonderful nutritional and flavor benefits. The minerals found in dried seaweed are highly beneficial, and the subtle sea salt that is added to the cooking liquid adds beneftits as well.
The beans need to cook until quite tender. Plan for dried beans to cook for about an hour. Fresh beans will become tender in about 30 minutes. When the beans are tender, remove the bay leaf. The cooking liquid should become nice and thick.
- Delicata Squash - While the beans are cooking, halve and scrape the delicata squash clean of seeds and pulp. Rub the inside of the squash with olive oil and ½ teaspoon of sea salt, add a sprig of thyme and place in the oven to roast at 350° for 30 minutes. I like to roast in a clay vessel, so mine goes into a clay dutch oven. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs when you take them from the oven.
- While beans and squash are cooking, soak the mushrooms in hot water for about 15-20 minutes to rehydrate them. Chop coarsely and set aside with the soaking liquid. While the mushrooms are soaking, saute the leeks on low heat in a bit of olive oil until melty and very tender - about 15 minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms with their soaking liquid (don't add the gritty stuff at the bottom) with 1 tsp each of salt, dried thyme and marjoram and simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid reduces and thickens a bit.
- Saute the chopped Swiss Chard or Kale with the chopped garlic and saute at medium-low heat. The greens will turn a bright color and wilt. Spritz with balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice to set the flavor and color.
- Drain most of the cooking liquid from the beans. Combine the beans with the leeks, mushrooms and chard. Add the mixture to the delicata squash halves.
- Season the panko bread crumbs olive oil, dried thyme, sea salt and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle the seasoned bread crumbs atop the stuffed squash and roast in the oven at 350° for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until bread crumbs are browned and the mixture is bubbly.