I should be blogging about all sorts of things right now - but probably not this one. However, whenever I make this meal for dinner - it takes me back to a most magical moment.
During college I studied so much about European art, furniture, architecture - that it made my teeth hurt; I wanted to see it so badly. As an American, I truly feel blessed to have been able to visit Europe (1990) during my lifetime. I would give my eye teeth to go again.
The meal - Cassoulet - eaten first - in Carcassonne, the very south of France.
We arrived in the town around midnight, by train - and made our way to the hotel (the Termini, I believe) - close to the railway station. The town of Carcassonne is two 'parts'. The surrounding lower, modern town; the older town, on the fortified mountain above. These were Roman fortifications that were later made into a town by the Visigoths. This town was the first recorded 'exercise' in Historic Preservation. Viollet le Duc, a French architect and theorist, was the man who spear-headed the preservation of this amazing place in 1853. Having a degree in Historic Preservation simply meant I had to see this place. Oh, I was in heaven. We spent all of our first day in 'old town' walking the cobblestone streets, and exploring every nook and cranny. Before we left to go back to the hotel in the afternoon, we made reservations at one of the restaurants in the restored mountain fortifications of Carcassonne.
Early evening falls. Storm clouds gather. As we walk the paths winding up the mountain, the wind picks up, and the rain drenches us. But - who cares? We are in France. The image that stays with me so strongly from this moment - is the cherry trees along the mountainside. There are lights in odd places along the pathways - and the cherries are so heavy on the branches - that with the wind and the rain -the wet, bright red cherries, bob in and out of the light. It is the most dramatic and fabulous sight - in my memory for all time.
At the restaurant, I believe it was the Auberge des Duc's d'Oc, we sat at a table for two, in a stone building with low ceilings and wonderful atmosphere.
I ordered the cassoulet. There were no words...
I won't give the recipe here - but I use Martha Stewart's that I got out of her magazine years ago. You can look there. It is fairly long and complicated, but so worth it. Because I know what it is supposed to taste like, I cheat when needed. I rarely have confit of duck close by...
The dry, crusty bread (4 cups) is tossed with 4 tablespoons of butter - and put on top of the cassoulet towards the end.
I do all of my cooking on this 1920s Oriole gas stove. My favorite appliance in my home.
The cassoulet during one of it's liquid checks...
The toasty crunchy bread on top; the bread underneath has absorbed some of the delicious broth.
Ready to savor, served in my antique ironstone soup bowls. Because it is so rich and complex in flavors - a hearty red wine is recommended to compliment it.
Enjoy - and with me, think of cherry trees, branches heavy with cherries, bowing and swaying in a May rainstorm.