Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of nothing being in season! Let me hear you if you’re fed up with all of your produce being from South America! Who can hardly wait for local asparagus, fava beans, spring onions and rhubarb?? Me, me, me! While I do love experiencing all four seasons, and dare I say, a little snow here and there – yes, I said it! I am ready for planting season to start already.
If you’re like me and try to buy seasonal vegetables as much as possible, this can be a particularly boring time in the produce section of your grocery stores. By now, you’ve probably had your fair share of squash, root vegetables and cabbage. Maybe you have even got to the point of thinking about going over the dark side and buying a bunch of asparagus from Argentina because you’re craving those tender, earthy spears roasted with a little olive oil, lemon and a good sprinkling of parm. And perhaps you caved last week and bought a couple of nectarines, only to bite into one and curse yourself for falling for that mealy, fragrant-less excuse of a summertime fave.
That’s ok, don’t feel bad. We’ve all been there. At this time of year, nothing in Canada is in season so while I had to buy acorn squash that was shipped from Mexico for this recipe and carrots from California, I did manage to stay away from that Argentinian asparagus. I know that in a month or so, I will be eating fresh and local Ontario asparagus and I’ll be eating it every way possible, making the most of this veggie’s short season.
That’s how I look at a lot of my produce choices when shopping, especially in the winter. Living in Canada, I will never be able to buy a local lemon, orange or lime – our climate just can’t sustain them. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to eat a clementine again or refrain from squeezing a little lemon over my fish. But I will choose to make recipes with citrus fruits in the winter when they’re in season in the big citrus producing areas of the world. This is also around the time when I gorge myself with clementines because they just taste so much better. So by the time Christmas and New Years passes, I’ve had enough of clementines and probably won’t have them again until the following Christmas.
You see, I look forward to holding out for the local produce; waiting for strawberries in June, blueberries in July and corn in August. You won’t find me buying those GM strawberries that smell like nothing and are crunchy – strawberries should not be crunchy!! There’s nothing better than eating strawberries that are still warm from the sun, or baking them into a strawberry shortcake or strawberry pie. How about tomato sandwiches that are so juicy that it soaks through your bread? By appreciating the cyclical nature of the growing season you gain a deeper respect for food, the farmers that plant the crops the effort it takes to get these crops to your table.
So as I am itching to begin cooking lighter meals filled with spring veg, I turn to my year round staples to create a completely satisfying and delicious meal. Sausages, smoked and dried bacon along with carrots, onions and celery make the flavour base of this dish. Fresh beans that I froze last summer round out the proteins and canned tomatoes add body and depth. The addition of acorn squash, instead of zucchini adds a note of sweetness and as it cooks down, the pulpy flesh thickens the stew beautifully. Some cayenne for some heat and a splash of red wine vinegar at the end ties it all together.
Cassoulet with Lots of Vegetables
1 tablespoons of olive oil
2 oz smoked, dried bacon or slab bacon, cubed
1 lb Italian sausages (4 links)
2 onions, sliced
2 carrots, cut into 1/2 inch lengths
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 acorn squash, seeds removed, peeled and cut into cubes
Salt and pepper
1 can of canned tomatoes chopped, with juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3 cups fresh romano beans, parboiled or 3 cups cooked or canned dried beans
2 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock
Cayenne, to taste
Splash of red wine vinegar, to taste
If you are using fresh beans: In a pot, cover the beans with water and cook until the beans are tender, but still have some bite left to them – they will continue cooking in the stew.
If you are using dried beans: Soak the beans over night. When you are ready to cook the beans, drain and rinse them thoroughly. Put the beans in a pot, cover with water and cook until tender, but still have some bite left to them.
Put the oil in a large, heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. A minute later, add the bacon and brown. When lightly browned, add the sausages. Rotate so that all sides develop a golden exterior. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes and remove from pan. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots celery and sweat for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until fragrant, before adding the squash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their liquid, 1 cup of the stock and the herbs. Bring to a simmer and if you are using fresh or dried beans you may add them at this point (if you are using canned beans don’t add them to the pot until later, as they will turn to mush after the longer cooking process). Slice the sausages into chunks and return it to the pot and reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles gently but continuously. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, adding extra stock when the mixture gets thick, about halfway through cooking. If you are using canned beans, add them to the pot during the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
Correct seasoning, add the cayenne if using, and a splash of red wine vinegar. Serve with crusty bread and a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil.