Bon appetit!


Emily-2When French student Emily Basquin landed at appetite HQ for a short internship, what better way to make best use of her than to demand an insight into French food? This is what Emily, from the countryside near Castelnaudary – the capital of cassoulet in France – told us…

If you want to know one thing about French people, it is that they really love eating, and eating properly!

Pot au feu, ratatouille, blanquette de veau, simple roast chicken on a Sunday – we love our food and the pleasure of sharing meals en famile, and where I come from, in the south west, it’s all about cassoulet.

A bubbling vat of beans and meat, traditional peasant versions of the recipe can take two days or more to prepare in the traditional cooking vessel – an earthenware pot called a cassole, for which the dish is named and shaped like a wide inverted cone to ensure a fabulous, dark – almost black – crust.

Cassoulet originated from the town of Castelnaudary, close to my home, but there are three types or different interpretations, of cassoulet known as the trinity. So cassoulet from Castelnaudary is “the father,” from Carcassonne is “the son” and from Toulouse is “the holy ghost”. Everyone has a different opinion of which town uses which meat as, in addition to Toulouse sausage and pork, you can have duck or goose, even lamb but to give you an idea, Castelnaudary’s contains duck or goose, pork and sausage; Carcassonne’s contains lamb, (red leg partridge in season), pork and sausage; and Toulouse’s contains lamb, duck or goose, pork and sausage.

The beans are very important as they give the dish its lovely creaminess and it’s really important to soak the beans overnight in salted water. You must also use a good stock, the best you can get – homemade if you can.

There are endless recipes out there, but for the traditional taste you must go for a Castlenaudary-style one. Or better, just come and visit our beautiful region and enjoy cassoulet in Toulouse, Carcassone, and in its home town of Castelnaudary, where legend says cassoulet was born during the 100-years war, in the 16th Century, when the English laid siege
to Castelnaudary.

The town is now home to La Grande Confrerie du Cassoulet de Castelnadary (The Brotherhood of Castelnaudary’s Cassoulet – look them up for their outfits alone!), which promotes the dish and preserves its traditions. Indeed, an annual festival celebrating cassoulet – the Fete du Cassoulet – is held in the last full week of August, attracting some 60,000 people who enjoy entertainment and cassoulet-themed events throughout the town.

Where to find a true Cassoulet? Well, it’s wonderful just about everywhere, while it is famed at the wonderful Hôtellerie Etienne
( in Labastide d’Anjou, about 10km from Castelnaudary, where the chef Eric Rousselot is widely regarded as the master of the dish.

In addition, Basque and Spanish tastes influence the food of southern France, and peppers, spicy sausage and tomatoes are used widely. In addition to the delicious sausages you find here, Bayonne ham is from this region and piperade (peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggs) is a local speciality. Our delicious confit goose and duck, excellent duck breast, and exquisite foie gras are all traditional, while our cheese includes Roquefort made from ewe’s milk, Bleu des Causses and Laguiole with cow’s milk, or Rocamadour with goat’s milk.

We eat cassoulet all year round, including in the baking hot summer, when we also love barbecues and picnics on the beach. But what to show to my English friends at appetite HQ? Certainly not a recipe which will tie them to the kitchen when it’s glorious outside, which is how I arrived at our family recipe for raspberry financiers – financier aux framboises. These small French cakes are delicious and done in 35 minutes, leaving you time to enjoy the weather. Bon appetit!

French fancies
The little French cakes known as financiers date back to 16th Century Lorraine, where they were made in a convent, though it was not until 1890 that the little cake became renowned, particularly among traders and workers at the stock exchange/ la bourse, hence the term “financiers”.

Brotherhood of men
There are countless brotherhoods in France like the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary which aim to protect the gastronomic heritage of the country. Predominantly made up of men, there are some 2,000 brotherhoods, or confreries, in the country, each dedicated to a local product, such as cheese, chestnuts, and cassoulet. They wear bright robes and engage in much pomp, and new members must also swear an oath.


Emily’s financiers aux framboises

Castelnaudary cassoulet 

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