Over the summer, I was lucky enough to get to spend three days at Georgeanne Brennan's house while we shot photos for our new cookbook, French Beans. When I wasn't trying to pretend I was a prop stylist or a food stylist, I was hovering around her kitchen, watching her every move. Mainly, I was just trying so soak up some of her kitchen zen, the way she calmly moved about, checking on something in the oven, stirring croutons that were crisping on the stovetop, chopping herbs, humming quietly to herself.
On the last day of the shoot, chef Sarah Scott was nice enough to come and help with food prep. Cassoulet was on the shot list, and we were all excited. I watched intently as they readied the ingredients: the beans, the aromatics, the pork belly, duck confit, and pancetta. There are so many steps involved in this dish but Georgeanne methodically worked through them, making it all look pretty effortless. And then, three or so hours later, what emerged from the oven was a masterpiece—a bubbly, crusty, masterpiece.
It was torture not to dig in immediately, but first Steve had to take the photos. So. Many. Photos. Finally, it was time to eat. We heaped piles of still-warm cassoulet into bowls. We stood there, shoveling mouthfuls of beans and sausage and duck bits into our mouths. It was not an elegant scene. But it was certainly a glorious food moment that I'll never forget.
Recently I decided that I wanted to make cassoulet for some of my friends, so they could experience the warm, convivial feeling of gathering around a big dish of bubbling beans and meat and just digging in with wild abandon.
I stocked up on our Cassoulet beans, grown in California but bred from French Tarbais seed stock. I placed an insanely large order with The Fatted Calf here in Napa. And Steve was nice enough to lend me his cassole made in France by the iconic Poterie Not Frères.
Then, I opened up my advance copy of French Beans, and doing my best to harness Georgeanne's kitchen zen, I got to work making her recipe, "Cassoulet, More-or-Less Toulouse-Style."
I cooked the beans:
Then cooked the meat and layered ingredients in the pot:
And, of course, dotted the top with pork fat:
While the cassoulet baked in the oven, my daughters helped me with the table settings and flower bouquets.
It was a gorgeous, warm fall evening in Napa and we carved out some space in our backyard for outdoor dining.
Three hours later, just as the first guests were arriving, the cassoulet emerges from the oven!
Steve had warned me not to eat right away, that the cassoulet needs some time to sit. I had this in mind when I went downstairs to socialize, sip Champagne, and enjoy the cheese plate a friend had brought over. Before I knew it, over an hour had passed and I had almost forgotten about the cassoulet! We gathered to eat and even though we may have waited a bit too long, luckily, the cassoulet was still steaming hot.
We had 12 people total for dinner, and with a simple salad and some fresh bread and butter, this was just about the perfect amount of food.
Because the recipe says it serves 8, I actually had doubled it and baked an extra cassoulet in a Dutch oven, using my neighbor's oven, but it hardly got touched and we had lots of leftovers! We shared plenty with our neighbor, in hopes that she would forgive us for the outdoor party that lasted well beyond bedtime.
Julia Newberry runs Rancho Gordo and was my co-author on The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen. We're lucky to have her for so many reasons, but this post makes it clear why.
French Beans by Georgeanne Brennan (Rancho Gordo Press) will be available late Fall 2018