Baked vegetable stew (4-6 servings)

We had our first snowfall of the season in Lancaster today. It didn't lay much, but it was still pretty to watch as it fell. I went to market this morning to gather the usual weekly ration of produce, and as soon as the flakes started tumbling down, all I could think was, "Sooooup."

Sadly, my husband suffers from a disorder that doesn't allow his brain to link the ideas of cold weather and warm soup. "I don't like to slurp my dinner," he'll grumble whenever I mention that it feels like a good soup day. It makes me sad for him, really.

I decided on a compromise that started as a vegetarian cassoulet and turned into something pretty far from it. Cassoulet is a peasant dish that originated in southern France. It's traditionally filled with beans and meat. Epicurious' vegetarian version already deviated from the classic version, but I ended up making so many additions and substitutions that I couldn't even call it cassoulet anymore. It turned out more Italian than French, actually! It was perfect for a cold winter day though: filling, warming, and satisfying.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 small bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 4 oz mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • splash Burgundy (or other red wine)
  • 2 Tbsp dried Italian herbs

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan in a small bowl or baggie; set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add celery, onion, and bell pepper; cook and stir for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms; cook and stir for an additional 6 minutes or until the onions are soft.
  5. Add the salt and pepper and garlic; cook and stir for one more minute.
  6. Remove from heat. Stir in the tomatoes, beans, broth, wine and herbs. Pour into a casserole dish and top with parmesan breadcrumbs. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.

I decided after making this that warm red wine and sauteed onions make one of the most intoxicating scent combinations on earth. The aroma this dish produced while it was baking was absolutely beautiful. The vegetables came out tender and plump, while the broth was flavorful but not heavy. I think it would have been delicious even without the breadcrumbs and cheese (it would be vegan too), but they did add nice texture and flavor. Celery, onions, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms are in season locally right now, but the zucchini wasn't, of course. Laura at Green Circle Organics told me two weeks ago that she was happily surprised to still be able to get local green peppers, but I'm not sure they're local by this late in December. Still, I was happy to be able to get most of the vegetables from local sources. It gets tougher to cook with local ingredients as the weather turns cold, but I'm up for the challenge. This was a delicious way to kick off the season!