Mid-March: the Spring-cleaning is done and the doors are open again at Chateau de Puissentut. Like the Cranes that have been flocking back from Africa, we’ve just welcomed back one of our lovely chefs, Bini Sharman, as we kick-off the new season with a yoga retreat.
The first thing for Bini to do is to re-stock the larders. Although all the signs of Spring are here, it’s immediately apparent as we walk around Lectoure market that it’s still too early for the new season’s produce. And although its heavenly to feel the sun on our faces, when its gone again the air is fresh and damp and actually it’s still a pleasure to be tucking into hearty casseroles that warm the blood and the soul.
One of the staples of Gascon cooking (the Gers lies at the heart of the historical region of Gascony) is the haricot bean. We’re extremely lucky that these beans are grown in the fields surrounding the Chateau and that they’re organic. They’re then processed by the farmers’ cooperative in Monfort (just 3 kilometres away), from where we buy them direct. You can’t get more local than this.
To celebrate this local staple and, to my mind, delicacy, Bini has created a dish which is as rich in flavour as the local dishes but lighter and healthier.
2 red onions cut in half and then into thin slices
1 clove garlic finely chopped
2 good tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup sundried tomatoes (soaked & cut into slices – reserve soaking water for later)
1 cup white haricot beans soaked and cooked
1 tbsp (each) fresh sage and thyme chopped
Heat the olive oil in a heavy base pan, then add the onions and garlic and good pinch of salt and cook until really soft and just turning golden brown. Add the sundried tomatoes and the liquid in which they were soaked and cook until really thick and sweet (add more liquid if it gets too dry). Now add the haricot beans and simmer until they are covered in all the juices. Finally add the chopped herbs and cook through for just a few minutes more.
Serve on a bed of brown rice or pasta with some crusty, sour-dough bread to soak up the juices.