Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shrimp & white bean cassoulet

Some days I amaze myself... and not necessary in the good way.  After I made this the other night, I was about to pat myself on the back for creating something so house-warming, so delicious, and so French.  Just say it with me.  Cassoulet  Cass-oh-lay.  Doesn't it just sound worthy of praise?  So, as I'm busy patting myself on the back, I managed to neglect the measuring cup of boiling water in my other hand and, as my beloved Paula Deen would tell it, done split boilin' water on my hand.  Boiling water.  Kitchen 101.  To make Jell-O.  Jell-O.  Good freakin' grief.  Any credibility I had with you folks in the kitchen just evaporated in front of my very eyes.  I'll be thankful if any of you manage to read past this.  (gulp)

You kept reading?  Thank you, thank you!  Oh, you say it's only because I promised an easy French dinner?  Naturally.  Well, then, let's get to it.  For some strange reason, I was perusing the Oprah website, trying to shake up my routine of kitchen inspiration, and saw this.  First, it promised to be lighter than a traditional cassoulet.  Uh, what?  I don't take lightly to, well, light dishes.  You know this.  I love my butter, cream, and fully indulgent calories, every last one of them.  But this sounded full of flavor and easy.  I mean, as far as I'm concerned, it's a casserole.  But just saying cass-oh-lay bumps it up a few notches on the culinary dish hierarchy.  The French language has a similar effect on other things.  For example, Tar-jhay (read: Target).

Traditionally, a cassoulet is a rich and slow-cooked dish containing white beans and meat (usually pork and pork skins).  This version uses shrimp and everyday white beans cooked with fragrant leeks, garlic and chicken broth.  If you've never tasted an unseasoned cannellini or navy bean, well, don't.  They are chock full of nutrients but bland as the day is long.  The transformation of boring to "Wow, I want another serving even though I am beyond full" took me by surprise.  Topped with the crunch of seasoned bread crumbs... well, let's just say that there is no finished picture because I literally could not stand another second to keep my paws off this.  It's also possible that my camera battery died and I was merely too lazy to charge it, knowing that I'd have to wait at least another 5 minutes before I could dine.  Forgive me... again.  :)

Shrimp and White Bean Cassoulet
(adapted from Oprah)

A few notes: Any white bean will do.  I had dried navy beans on  hand, so I soaked them overnight and cooked them on low in the slow cooker for 8 hours before draining and using.  Also, I found there was more than enough flavor without the spicy kick of the red pepper flakes, but if you're not as wimpy and want that kick, by all means include it.  Finally, this dish reheats fantastically.  Not that it lasted more than 2 days after I made it, but I gladly wolfed it down for lunch and dinner until it was gone.  I'd imagine this keeps, covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated, up to 5 days.

3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined (or thawed and shelled, if frozen)
3 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons dry white wine
2 1/2 cups cooked white beans or 2 (14.5 ounce) cans, drained and rinsed (I used navy)
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth (I used chicken)
1/3 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly coat a 1 1/2 quart glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add leeks, garlic, pepper flakes if using.  Cook, stirring frequently, until leeks soften (do not brown), 3 to 4 minutes.  Increase heat to medium high.  Add shrimp and 3 tablespoons of parsley; cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp just begin to turn pink (or, if using frozen, are warmed through), about 1 minute.  

Stir in flour and salt until combined.  Stir in wine, if desired, and cook 30 seconds.  Add beans and broth and cooking, stirring until mixture just comes to a simmer.  Transfer mixture to baking dish.  (Don't worry if your mixture seems a little runny at this point.  The beans will absorb it in the oven.)

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Layer bread crumb mixture over top of mixture in baking dish.  Bake until shrimp mixture is hot and tops are lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes.  Serve immediately.

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