Tag Archives: cannellini beans

Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet

L1040015If anyone had told my younger self that I would go through menopause in my late thirties, I probably would have shrugged and went on with my life.   Back then, I thought menopause would merely be a ceasing of menstruation and maybe a year of hot flashes.  However, I’m learning that the experience of menopause is a heck of a lot more than that, and it’s a really difficult transition.  Just the other day I was so frustrated and disheartened that I thought to myself, Why aren’t there menopause support groups the way that there are AA meetings?  The thought kind of made me laugh, but then I soberly wondered if any actually exist.
L1040007It wasn’t until recently that I came to the conclusion that all of my ailments were due to my hormones being out of whack due to menopause.  It’s pretty amazing how much control our hormones have over how our body functions; they control everything!  They’re like the lobbyists of the U.S. political system.  (Ok, I won’t get political…but isn’t that a good analogy?!)

I am trying to remain patient and maintain some sense of normalcy with this transitional phase of my life, but it has been a struggle the last few months as my symptoms become more acute.  Yoga definitely helps.  And I’ve started training for the half-marathon that I will be running in April.  Every little thing helps.  I just hope that I am one of the more fortunate women for whom menopause lasts two years instead of ten.  Gulp.
L1040004This was my first time making a cassoulet.  I came across this recipe in Food & Wine, where a Minneapolis chef was sharing riffs-on-casserole recipes.  If you haven’t ever made one, they are as easy as a casserole, and even more delicious.  And this particular cassoulet is perfect for hunkering down on a cold winter’s night.  It’s almost March, people!
L1040013Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield:  10-12 servings

1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced, plus 2 large carrots, cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths
14 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Sea salt
Black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce chicken sausages, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 turnips, peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 ounces rustic peasant bread, crusts removed, bread cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, celery and diced carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning 
to soften, about 8 minutes.  Add the beans and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°. In a small skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant and the mustard seeds begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer 
to a spice grinder and let cool. Add the smoked paprika and crushed red pepper and grind the harissa blend into a powder.
  3. Wipe out the casserole and heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in it. Add the sausages and cook over moderate heat, until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Do not wipe out the casserole.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes, turnips and large carrots to the casserole. Season with salt and black pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 minutes.  Add the harissa spice blend and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the bean mixture and the chicken broth and bring just to a simmer.  Cover and bake the 
cassoulet for about 1 hour, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and uncover the cassoulet.  Mix in the sausages.
  6. Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, toss the bread, parsley, lemon zest and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the bread over the cassoulet and broil until golden and crisp. Let the cassoulet stand for 10 minutes before serving.





Cannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the fact that we got ourselves a cute little tree, I’ve been listening to Christmas music while getting ready in the morning, and I spent an entire weekend (and then some) making edible holiday gifts, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year.  It might be partly due to the fact that it’s been insanely warm for this time of year-–it’s been in the 60’s for weeks now!  Ugh.  My husband finds it humorous that I should complain about this, but I stand by it.  I want a little chill in the air, enough so that a winter coat is mandatory.  I want to walk down the streets of NYC, looking through the windows at the whimsical holiday displays while sipping a hot cocoa.   Is this too much to ask??  The world can be a tough place to stomach sometimes, and I feel like December is the one time of year when we are allowed to live in a fantasyland in our heads––dreaming of sugarplums, reindeer, and snowmen.  I am going to try and make the best of it.  At least we’re not housebound due to a huge snowstorm, eh?

You HAVE to make this dish, and soon.  I’ve made it twice in the past month, and I can’t get enough of it.  Not only is it a perfect, comforting winter meal (even if it is warmer than usual), but it’s super-easy and pretty healthy.   It takes all of 10 minutes, and you can make it in one pan.  Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACannellini Beans with Bacon & Spinach
Adapted from The Splendid Table

Yield:  4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces smoky bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 (28-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put a large (approximately 10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and let it get hot.
2. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and shallots, and cook for 30 seconds longer. Add the beans and cook for another 2 minutes.
4. Add the spinach and salt, season with pepper, and cook until the spinach wilts, about 4 minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of water, if needed, to help the spinach along. Serve immediately.

Braised White Beans and Leeks

DSC_4501I made it to yoga this morning.  It was a small achievement in my day.  I went a couple of weeks ago for the first time in almost a year, and it was a less than satisfying experience.  I couldn’t believe how hard the moves felt compared to a year ago.  I struggled with every pose, my legs shaking like jello.  And because I mistakenly placed my mat towards the front of the room like a confident person (fake it till you make it, right?), I felt everyone’s eyes on me.  In my mind they, along with the instructor, were judging me and wondering why I thought I could do this.  This was an “open” class and the instructor stated that if we weren’t comfortable doing a pose to simply return to a pose that we were more comfortable with.  I did ok until the last 15 minutes, when the instructor led us into poses meant for Olympic athletes.  Everyone in the class seemed to have no problem contorting their bodies into strange and incredibly difficult poses.  I immediately felt like a failure for not being able to do any of them.  I returned to child’s pose and felt the shame wash over my body.  I had recently made a pact with myself to start doing yoga on a weekly basis.  Walking home after class, I knew it was going to be a struggle to return the following week.
DSC_4491I’m reading a book about fear right now.  The author’s thesis is that no matter what our fear is, it is rooted in the belief that we won’t be able to handle whatever it is that we fear.  So whether it’s facing the death of a loved one, unemployment, or a divorce, we are supposed to repeat the mantra, “I can handle this!” and then move forward in life impervious to said fears.  Alas, I skipped yoga the following week.  It was a tough week.  Despite this, or because of this, I should have made more of an effort to attend my yoga class.  Regardless, I made some mental readjustments over the weekend and was determined to do yoga this week.  I didn’t want one class to scare me away.  Walking to class this morning, I told myself to try and utilize the mindfulness aspect of the class instead of focusing simply on my strength, or lack thereof.  My legs still shook during certain poses, but I concentrated more on my breathing and simply staying mindful.  This time, instead of shame washing over my body during my last pose, I felt a sense of calm and stillness.  It was nice.  I did get distracted a few times by the instructor.  I found myself mesmerized by her voice, so much so that I found myself wondering if she does voiceover work.  I think I’ve lived in New York too long.  As I approached the steps to my apartment, an older man came walking up to me.  Angrily, he shouted, “I hate Astoria!  I would rather live in Puerto Rico any day than this shithole.  I hate this place.”  I shrugged at him and inserted my key into the lock.  I wasn’t going to let this random guy ruin my Zen state.
DSC_4497Seeing as this winter is never going to end (I heard NYC has had 18 snowstorms so far this winter!), I have been trying to balance my cravings for hearty food with healthy alternatives.  This recipe falls into both categories.  It’s pretty darn healthy and still a satisfying, substantial winter dish.  After taking my first bite, it reminded me of both a cheesy, herbaceous goulash and French onion soup.  I licked the spoon like it contained brownie batter and not white beans and leeks.  The original recipe called for dried cannellini beans, but I simplified it by substituting canned beans.  The result was a fast and easy recipe that would be perfect for a weeknight meal when you don’t have a lot of time but you want something rib-sticking good.

Braised White Beans and Leeks
Adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen

1-15 oz. can cannellini beans
3 large leeks
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 celery stalks, divided
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
2.  Trim the leeks, discarding the tough green tops, halve vertically, and rinse in cold water, making sure to clean out any dirt trapped between the layers.  Slice into thin half circles.
3.  In a large Dutch oven or heavy skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the celery, garlic, and leeks and cook until the vegetables are softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
4.  Add the beans, thyme, herbes de Provence, red pepper flakes to taste, salt and pepper.
5.  Stir in the vegetable broth and bring the mixture back up to a gentle boil.  Cook for approximately 25 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is gone.
6.  Sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan on top of the bean mixture and place the pot in the oven, leaving the lid off.  Cook until the cheese is completely melted and brown in spots, 8-10 minutes.  Serve warm.