About 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to spend a week in an actual castle in France. It was at a writer’s conference with some of my favorite writers.
Not to name drop, but I had breakfast every morning with Dorothy Allison, Jacqueline Mitchard, and Anne LeClaire. And see the turret on the left in the picture below? That was in my bedroom. (Yes, there were bats and … um … snakes, but somehow that just made it even more fun.)
It was one of those weeks when you keep asking yourself: “Is this really happening? Or am I having the best dream ever?”
I’d get up early every morning to do some writing in preparation for the day’s workshop, and sneak down to the “extra” kitchen, where I’d make coffee for the morning. And as the sun rose higher in the sky, one-by-one the writers would join me. Before long, the writing was put aside and we’d end up deep in conversation. It was pretty awesome.
On a shopping trip, Dorothy and Anne helped me pick out a gorgeous jacket that I still own (and very rarely wear – I need to do something about that).
And there was a LOT of amazing French food, prepared in the castle’s large “main” kitchen. I tried all sorts of cheeses, foie gras (it’s delicious if you don’t think too much about it), and different kinds of game. Because it was in the height of summer, the fruits and vegetables were in abundance. (And yes, there was a lot of amazing French wine.)
One rainy night we had cassoulet, and it was absolutely perfect.
In fact, pretty much everything about that week was magical: I got to spend time elbow-to-elbow with some of my favorite writers and basically lived in a happy little bubble for the entire week.
When I got home, I wanted to recapture some of that magic, and so I created a cassoulet – which quickly became renamed Casserole A – that was quick and easy to make, as a weeknight meal.
Traditional cassoulet originated in the south of France as a rich, slow-cooked casserole. It typically contained pork sausage, goose, duck and mutton and white beans.
My version of this recipe has gone though several revisions over time, but this most recent one is a real keeper. I like it because it’s made in the crockpot, and I used chicken thighs instead of chicken breast, which are more succulent and in keeping the rustic feel of cassoulet.
When I came up with this version, I had an idea that the macros were pretty good (i.e., the ratio of fats/carbs/protein). But they actually are kind of perfect, especially if you accompany it with a small piece of crusty bread (gluten-free if that’s a thing for you), and/or maybe a side salad.
When you use a slow cooker, there’s really no “right” or “wrong” way to prepare a dish, as long as you actually take the time to make sure the chicken is done. I started mine for an hour on high, then turned the heat down to low and let it go for several hours, till the chicken thighs were falling apart and the sweet potatoes were tender.
It tastes even better the next day. Try this one for sure – I think you’ll like it.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled chopped
- 1 tsp marjoram
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1.5 lbs chicken thighs (I cut mine into portion-sized pieces)
- 1 large link turkey kielbasa
- 2 15 oz. cans white beans, rinsed
- 1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (see note below)
- In a large heavy skillet, heat olive oil, and then add onions, carrots, and celery. Saute until they start to soften, and then add sweet potatoes, marjoram, and thyme.
- Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Place veggie mixture in large crockpot.
- Nestle chicken thighs and sliced turkey kielbasa on top of veggies.
- Add white beans and tomatoes, and then chicken broth.
- Cover and cook for 3 to 4 hours on high, or 4 to 6 hours on low, stirring occasionally.
- Your cooking time will vary based on your individual crockpot's heat settings.
- Ladle into bowls and serve!
- Note: you can add more or less chicken broth as needed. I have also made this using "Better than Bouillon" and it is delicious.
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(above: ricotta with honey and raspberries)