This is not the kind of recipe I'd instantly resolve to try on sight. (Indeed, as much as I enjoyed Johanna's post about this cassoulet when she first published it, I didn't bookmark it at all.) Yet Johanna submitted it to our giveaway as one of her favourite winter warmers, and I must admit that she has a pretty good track record with recommendations. This proved to be no exception.
I tire quickly of the veges-in-tomato-sauce style of vegetarian cooking, but this has a little more going for it. There's fennel, left to brown amongst the onions and garlic, and there's a comforting mix of breadcrumbs, parmesan and parsley allowed to crisp on top before it's stirred through the casserole. Johanna made note of two other properties that are popular in this household: the flavours develop over several days and there's enough for several meals. (Even the version below, which is probably two-thirds the original quantity.) Just what we want for lunchbox leftovers!
(based on a recipe at Green Gourmet Giraffe)
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion
1 small fennel bulb
3 cloves garlic
1 large carrot
1 stalk celery
2 Lebanese eggplants (they're roughly the shape and size of a zucchini)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs (I used parsley, oregano and sage)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup stock
400g can butter beans, drained and rinsed
75g red lentils
3 tablespoons parsley
100g bread crumbs
Finely chop the onions and fennel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a large pot - if you have an oven-proof one, use that. Add the onions, fennel and garlic and cook them over low heat, stirring often, until browned (about 20-30 minutes).
While that's cooking, continue chopping, getting the carrot, celery, eggplant, mushrooms and tomato into nice bite-sized chunks. When the onions are ready, add all those veges to the pot, along with the tomato paste, mixed herbs, bay leaf, vinegar and stock. Bring it all to the boil, then cover and simmer it for 10-20 minutes. Drain and rinse your beans, adding them and the lentils to the pot to simmer for a further 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Chop the parsley and grate the parmesan.
Once all that simmering's done, it's time to get baking. If your pot's not oven-proof, transfer the mixture to a casserole dish that is. Scatter two-thirds of the parsley, parmesan and breadcrumbs over the cassoulet, then bake it for about 20 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break the crust and stir it into the cassoulet; sprinkle over the remaining parsley, parmesan and breadcrumbs and bake for a further 20 minutes.