As many of you know I’ve been immersed in Mediterranean cooking for the past few weeks with the cook school series at Bel Mondo coming to an end on a high note with the celebration of Bastille Day last Thursday. For the last night I demonstrated Truffled Chicken, a dish that transforms the ordinary into the sublime with the addition of just one ingredient.

This all got me thinking about food and food television. What we eat is supposed to be fun and happy, not scary and the competitive sport that it is being portrayed as on our television screens. Delving into those Mediterranean food roots has reminded me that at the end of the day it really is all about flavour. Take simple good product, treat it well and enjoy the flavours. We all now live in a world of instant decisions and instant results where time is a precious commodity not to be wasted lightly and I guess one of the biggest casualties of this is our food habits. Good flavour is the Holy Grail of cooking and takes time to search for and develop.

So today’s recipe is an old French classic that looks complicated but is in fact easy to do. There are literally hundreds of recipes for Cassoulet, which is in essence a simple bean and sausage casserole that can be dressed up with Confit of Duck, another case of the simple becoming the astonishing. I’ve included both recipes for you so that you can choose how elaborate you want to make it and before anyone mentions it the quantities for the Duck aren’t a typo, the confit of duck will last for weeks in the fridge as long as it stays completely covered by duck fat so if you’re going to the trouble then why not get more than one meal out of it. What could be finer than coming home from work on a dark winters night knowing that you have a beautiful meal ready to go in the fridge?

As I write this we’re preparing for our trip to Europe and I’m starting to imagine the foods and wines that we’ll taste in France, over the coming the weeks I’ll share the travels with you in Indulge as well as on my website (www.peterblakeway.co.nz) where you can also find out about upcoming cook schools at Mills Reef Winery and Bel Mondo.

Cassoulet (Classic French Casserole)

This is best made the day before, which makes your dinner party far more relaxing!  It works well as an entrée or can be served as a very special main course with the duck.

Serves 4

1000g lima beans, soaked overnight                  Salt and pepper

900g fresh pork belly                                    ¼ cup / 60g duck fat

1 onion, cut into 4 pieces                                    6 pork sausages

450g pork rind                                             3 onions, thinly sliced

1 bouquet garni                                             1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

4 ducklegs confited (see recipe below)

Method

Drain and rinse beans and place in a large pan.  Add pork belly, onion, 112g pork rind and bouquet garni.  Cover with water, add salt and pepper to taste and bring to boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour until beans are tender.  Allow to cool and discard onion and bouquet garni.  Remove pork belly, cut into 5cm squares and set aside.  Strain beans and rind and set aside, reserving cooking liquid separately.

In a sauté pan, heat all but 1 tablespoon duck fat over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Carefully add sausages and brown on all sides.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Using same pan, over a medium-high heat, brown sliced onions, garlic and reserved cooked squares of pork rind from the beans.  Remove from heat and transfer to blender.  Add 1 tablespoon remaining duck fat and purée until smooth.

Preheat oven to 180˚C.  Line the bottom of a deep ovenproof dish with the uncooked pork rind.  Arrange all your ingredients in alternating layers, beginning with a layer of beans, then sausages, then more beans, then pork belly, beans, duck confit and finally more beans, adding a dab of the onion and pork rind purée between each layer.  Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to just cover the beans, reserving 1 cup/225ml in the fridge for later use.  Cook the cassoulet in the oven for 1 hour, then reduce heat to 130˚C and cook for another hour.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Refrigerate overnight.

Next day: Preheat oven to 180˚C.  Cook cassoulet for 1 hour.  Break crust on top with a spoon and add ¼ cup/56ml of the reserved cooking liquid.  Reduce heat to 130˚C and continue cooking for another 15 minutes or until very hot.  Serve immediately.

Confit of Duck

Serves 10

10 duck legs, marinated

Marinade for Confit:

A few sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

12 fresh basil leaves

20 black peppercorns

2 cloves garlic, chopped

4 shallots, chopped

3cm fresh root ginger, peeled and grated

20ml Worcestershire sauce

20ml soy sauce

20ml balsamic vinegar

30ml white wine vinegar

30ml The Grove horopito infused Avocado oil

2 tablespoons sea salt

2-3kg goose, duck or pork fat to cover

75ml clear honey

Method

Mix all marinade ingredients together and marinate duck legs for up to 3-4 days.

Melt fat in a deep tray.  Add marinated meat and cook in a pre-heated oven at 170˚C for 2 hours.  Check that legs are cooked, and then allow to cool in the fat.  At this stage, the confit will last weeks in the fridge, if kept covered in fat, ensuring a total air seal forms.  When needed, simply remove from fat and cook under a HIGH grill for about 8-10 minutes, or until the skin goes crispy.

Wine Match

This dish can handle all sorts of wines from Viogner to Pinot Noir but for me the Left Field Syrah from Te Awa Winery in Hawkes Bay is a cracker and reminds me of the wines of Southern France, which is after all the home of the Cassoulet

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