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Pumpkin and Parsnip Cassoulet

The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney (Dorling Kindersley, hardback, 16.99/20)Recession may be painful but it also brings many benefits, including a return to more cost-conscious cooking – both in terms of the ingredients used, and the cooking methods.

It’s good to see slow cooking backing style and The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney (Dorling Kindersley, hardback, £16.99/€20) is a timely and comprehensive guide. The range of 200 recipes is excellent – the kind of dishes that make you want to dive into the kitchen and get going - and instructions are given both for electric slow cookers (of which sales are currently soaring) and ordinary ovens/ranges.

This seasonal example is a lighter vegetarian version of the traditional meaty cassoulet, featuring creamy haricot beans and a crispy, herby breadcrumb and parmesan cheese topping.

Pumpkin and Parsnip CassouletServes 4-6 (Freeze Up To 3 Months; Healthy)

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cloves
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
450g (llb) pumpkin (prepared weight), chopped into bite-sized pieces
450g (llb) small parsnips, sliced into rounds
250ml (9fl oz) white wine
few sprigs of thyme
4 tomatoes, chopped, or use a 400g can tomatoes
400g can haricot beans, rinsed and drained
300ml (l0fl oz) hot vegetable stock for the slow cooker (900ml /l½ pints for the traditional method)

FOR THE TOPPING

125g (41/2 oz) breadcrumbs, lightly toasted
30g (loz) Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

In the slow cooker: prep 15 mins, cook 20 mins precooking + auto/low 8 hrs or high 4 hrs

1. Preheat the slow cooker, if required. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft. Season with salt and pepper, add the garlic, cloves, carrots, celery, and bay leaf, and cook, stirring occasionally, on a very low heat for 8-10 minutes until it is all soft. Stir through the pumpkin and parsnip and cook for a few minutes more, then pour in the wine. Increase the heat, stir, and let it bubble for a minute or two. Then add the thyme, tomatoes, and beans.

2. Transfer everything to the slow cooker, pour over the stock, season, and stir. Cover with the lid and cook on auto/low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. An hour before the end of the cooking time, mix the topping ingredients together in a bowl, sprinkle over, and replace the lid. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve with crusty bread.

Traditional method prep 15 mins, cook 1 1/4 hrs

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole over a medium heat, add the onion, and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft. Season with salt and pepper, add the garlic, cloves, carrots, celery, and bay leaf, and cook, stirring occasionally, on a very low heat for 8-10 minutes until it is all soft. Stir through the pumpkin and parsnip and cook for a few minutes more, then pour in the wine. Increase the heat, stir, and let it bubble for a minute or two. Then add the thyme, tomatoes, beans, and stock, and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, season, cover with the lid, and put in the oven for 40 minutes.

2. Mix together the topping ingredients in a bowl, sprinkle it over the cassoulet and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and cook for about 10 minutes until the topping is golden. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve with crusty bread.

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