Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Casserole With A Nod To Provence

Although it has been a few years (almost five!) since Sweetie and I along with our wonderful daughter K visited my daughter of the heart Naomi in Provence, I still have such fond memories of our time with her exploring the hill villages, the market at Lourmarin, and the beauty of Aix with all of it's fountains. Recently she helped me celebrate my birthday by sending me a box of goodies from Provence, including wild oregano (marjolaine sauvage) that she picked herself in Bonnieux. There were delightful soaps and snacks like almonds and dairy-free cookies, but one of the little jars contained a pepper puree with a bit of oil that I tried and found out that it was quite spicy hot. I wanted to make a meal that included that pepper condiment and the oregano, so I turned to a favorite soup of mine as a starting place and created a casserole based on it. It was delicious! I just wish that Naomi was here to have some with me. Thank you Naomi for all the goodies!!

The base of this dish is a sauté of carrots, celery and onion, plus, of course, garlic, cooked in olive oil. Then there are white beans. You can cook your own Navy beans or similar white beans, or you can use canned ones as I did. I rinsed mine so that all the flavors of the next additions would soak into the beans. Next I added some of the wild oregano, a tiny bit of the pepper condiment, three whole cloves, two bay leaves, salt and pepper and some dried thyme. To that mixture I added some diced tomatoes in their juice and two mildly spicy Italian sausages  that had been sliced. Last of all I stirred in a quarter of a green cabbage that had been sliced then chopped. All of this was cooked together in my favorite cast iron skilled until it bubbled, then I transferred it into a casserole dish and refrigerated it, covered, for a couple of days. In my experience, that allows the onion and garlic to meld with the other ingredients in a wonderful way. On the evening it was served, I let the casserole come to room temperature, topped it with a mixture of olive oil and dry bread crumbs, then baked it for 20 minutes until the topping was browned and the casserole contents were bubbly.

It was a great success. All of the flavors and textures went well together and the pepper puree was just spicy enough to overcome the blandness of the beans. Sweetie had two good sized servings he liked it so much. I recommend this dish, even if you use regular oregano and a hot sauce...perhaps Naomi's favorite Siracha sauce. If you leave out the sausages it is vegan, too. Bon Appetit.

White Bean, Cabbage and Sausage Casserole
Serves 4-6

Casserole Mixture
2-3 mild sausages (about 1/2 lb.) - I used turkey mild Italian
Sausage cooking oil or 2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
2 carrots, cleaned, quartered and thinly sliced
1 yellow or white onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, mashed
1 - 14 oz. can diced tomatoes in tomato juice
1 can or package (13 - 15 oz.) cooked white beans, rinsed and drained
2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano, crushed if wild dried
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon (less if you are sensitive to heat/spiciness, more if you like it hot) hot pepper sauce
1 - 14 oz. can diced tomatoes in tomato juice
1 can or package (13 - 15 oz.) cooked white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 to 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced

Crumb Topping
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry bread crumbs
Mix together with a fork until all bread crumbs are saturated. Will look like wet sand. Set aside.

Cook the sausages (ours were grilled), cool, then slice and set aside.

Sauté the celery, carrot, onion and garlic in the olive oil until onion is translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

 Add the tomatoes and white beans.

Add the bay leaves, whole cloves, pepper, oregano, and salt and stir to combine all the ingredients.
Simmer over low heat, covered, until mixture starts to bubble. Add reserved sausage slices and cabbage and stir to combine. 

Cook over low heat, covered, another 5 minutes. 

If you are cooking in an oven-safe pan, sprinkle the top with the crumb mixture. If not, transfer mixture to a greased casserole that is oven safe and sprinkle top with the crumb mixture. Bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven until crumb mixture is lightly browned and bean mixture is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve at once. A green salad goes nicely with this.

Optional: Transfer the mixture to a greased casserole, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight or for a day or two. Remove from fridge, bring to room temperature, remove foil, add crumb topping and bake as directed above. The time in the fridge allows the flavors to meld and improves the final dish if you have time.

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