Lot-et-Garonne, a department in southwestern France named for two rivers, is a provincial plain abundant in nature, history, and food. Known for its brilliant fields of sunflowers, tight clusters of fortified medieval villages, and imposing chateaux, it is also a place supremely renowned for its dedication to dining as an art form. Blessed with the celebrated Agen plum and the superbly potable Armagnac, to live in Lot-et-Garonne is to hint at what Heaven will be like.
It is here that American expatriates Katie Lerum Zeller and her husband have laid down their roots as they take up the challenge of restoring an extraordinary farmhouse to its former glory. Days commence early and full, with Katie's "mon mari" hauling and hammering, while she procures local ingredients to plan her lovely menus. The chronicles of their always exhilarating and often exasperating endeavors are hilariously written on Katie's fun and long-running site, Thyme for Cooking, each lively anecdote punctuated by a delicious recipe nuanced with flavor and innovation, yet never intimidating to create in your own kitchen. When the hammering is over, the meal is served, and the wine has been poured, the only sound heard is of happy little pups who could not have been adopted into a better home. Life is good.
I am very happy that Katie found the time in her hectic life to share one of her wonderful recipes as a guest blogger on The Well-Seasoned Cook in celebration of My Legume Love Affair - Kicking Off Year 4. Thanks, Katie!
The following writing, recipe, and photography are owned by Katie Lerum Zeller and protected by copyright. All Rights Reserved. 2011. All materials appear here by permission and courtesy.
I am the proud, albeit recent, owner of a pressure cooker.
I've wanted one for yonks, but only recently convinced myself that I could justify it....
That and it was on sale.
Anyway, I now have my pressure cooker.
Naturally, the first thing I did was buy a pressure cooker cook book.
Well, two, actually.
My mother had the kind that regularly blew it's top so I was / am a bit careful of it.
One of the things I wanted it for was to cook dried beans. My friend, who lives in the mountains in Spain, swears by his. Because of where he lives he keeps a good supply of a variety of dried beans (as well as rices and pastas) on hand and swears by his old, decrepit pressure cooker.
But the instruction book that came with mine said not to use it for beans.... Something about them boiling up and clogging the thingy on top.
One of my cook books advised great caution for cooking beans; the other implied no problem, but to be mindful.
When family visited recently I had a request for cassoulet.
Sure, no problem. I'll use my new pressure cooker for the beans.
For those not familiar with pressure cookers there are two main ways of releasing the pressure so one can open it after the food is cooked. One, used for things that cook quickly, is to run cold water over the lid; the other, for things that cook slowly, is to do nothing and let it gradually cool and lose pressure on it's own.
For beans, one uses the latter method.
I put the beans in the pressure cooker, no pre-soaking required, and cooked them for the required time.
I turned them off, as instructed by my cook book, and waited.... And waited.
I had everything else ready for the cassoulet, but I needed the beans.
As is typical of me, I ran out of patience and decided they had sat long enough, easily twice as long as the book said they needed to.
I took the pressure cooker to the sink and ran cold water over the lid.
It immediately lost pressure, broke the seal and spewed hot bean liquid out the top.
Now, had I been smart and used potholders, as one always should when handling very hot kitchen equipment, that wouldn't have presented a problem.
Yes, my fingers were burned.
Yes, it was very painful.
And yes, I will continue to use my pressure cooker to cook beans. I just won't try to rush the process.....
But cassoulet, to me, is winter food.
In summer we eat salads - this is one of our favorites.
White Bean and Tuna Salad
1 1/2 cups (15oz, 450gr) white beans, drained and rinsed if using canned
9oz (270gr) tuna
2/3 cup sliced celery
1/3 cup sliced olives
1 tbs fresh chives, snipped
1 tbs fresh oregano, snipped
3oz (90gr) salad greens
1 tbs Dijon-style mustard
1 tbs white balsamic vinegar
3 tbs salad olive oil
Combine tuna, beans, celery, herbs and olives in medium bowl. Combine mustard and vinegar in a small bowl and whisk together. Slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. Add to tuna / bean and mix gently. Allow to sit a bit for flavors to blend, 30 minutes or so. Spoon on top of salad greens to serve.
This will serve four as a first course salad or two for a light lunch.