A Winter Gratin
Winter is a good time for hearty, warming gratins, and hand-crafted gratin dishes like the one used here, make a special Christmas gift. This is ready to go in the oven once it’s topped with buttered bread crumbs.
Gratin of Cranberry Beans, Sweet Peppers and Toulouse Sausage
Cranberry beans appear as fresh shelling beans in the French markets in fall, but it is such a small window of availability it makes sense to use dried beans in order to make this dish year round. The saffron and cumin give the juices a golden hue and a hint of the exotic, and sausages contribute their own flavors to the whole.
½ pound dried cranberry beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight or for a few hours
1 bay leaf
4 Toulouse sausages or substitute mild Italian
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 tablespoon
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 sweet red bell pepper, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced lengthwise
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup freshly torn bread
Put the beans and their soaking water or use fresh water, in a saucepan to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to low. Partially cover. After an hour, add 1 teaspoon of salt and a bay leaf. Continue to simmer, adding more water if necessary, until the beans are tender, about 1 ½ to 2 hours total. Taste and add salt to taste.
In a frying pan, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sausages, and cook, turning often until they are browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausages to a bowl and pour the cooking juice from the pan over them. Return the pan to the heat and add the olive oil. When it is hot add the onions, reducing the heat to medium, and cook until the onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the peppers. Continue to cook, stirring as needed, until the onions and peppers are very soft, about 15 minutes. Do not brown.
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Pour the onions, peppers and their cooking juices into a gratin dish. With a slotted spoon, add the beans to the dish, reserving the broth, and turning the beans several time. Add about ¼ cup of the reserved broth. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus the saffron, cumin and the oregano. Cut the sausages into 1 inch pieces, reserving the collected juice in their bowl, and add the sausage to the gratin dish, along with a tablespoon of their cooking juices. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. When it has melted, add the torn bread and cook stirring, until the bread is lightly golden, about 3 minutes.
Scatter the gratin with the buttered bread crumbs. It will not make a solid layer.
Place in the oven and cook until the surface is bubbling and the bread is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with the remaining oregano.
Serve hot directly from the gratin dish. Serves 4
Adapted from French Beans by Georgeanne Brennan, Rancho Gordo Press, 2018