women

“One taste of cassoulet and I knew what I wanted to do with my life”

A dish she first tried on a student trip to France is still food guru turned author Prue Leith’s favourite food to cook for friends.

It’s easy to remember the first moment I thought I’d like to have my own restaurant. I was studying acting in Paris, and went with a friend to this basement dive with red and white gingham tablecloths. There was almost no menu, but chalked on the blackboard under main course was cassoulet. Someone came around with an enormous pot and dolloped it on to our plates, and the flavours were fantastic. I thought to myself, ‘I want to be a cook, and I’m going to have a restaurant just like this one.’

Growing up in South Africa, I had so many food memories – likeeating buttered biscuiys with hundreds and thousands on the beach, or the time my father took me to a restaurant and I ate snails for the first time. All there experiences have come back to me recently as I’ve just published my memories, Relish: My Life On A Plate. But it wasn’t until I went to France that I realised I could be a cook.

Even now, cassoulet is my favourite thing to make when I have friends over. When I turned 70 two years ago, and my then partner, Ernest, turned 80, we had a joint birthday party. It was one of the most wonderful nights of my life. We had a concert for all our friends, followed by this cassoulet for dinner, then went outside, wrapped up against the February cold, and had four minutes of amazing fireworks. When I love about food is the conviviclity – people sitting around the table enjoying themselves. And I like to be the mother, doling out food … I just love it.

Prue’s Easy Chicken and Fennel Cassoulet

Description: Chicken and Fennel Cassoulet

Chicken and Fennel Cassoulet

‘This is an ancient GH recipe that I’ve been making for years’

Hands-on time 20min. Cooking time about 50min. Serves 8

·         4 large or 8 small fennel bulls, quartered

·         4 garlic cloves, slices

·         4tbsp olive oil

·         8 large chicken thighs, skin on

·         8tsp black olive tapenade

·         8 good meaty sausages, preferably Toulouse

·         Juice of 2 lemons

·         3 rosemary sprigs

·         3 x 410g tins cannellini beans

·         1 chicken stock cube

·         90g pack sliced Parma ham or Prosciutto

1.    Preheat oven to 180oC (160oC fan) mark 4. Put fennel in a large roasting tin, toss through garlic and 2tbsp oil, and roast for 30min.

2.    Meanwhile, peel back chicken skins and spread 1tsp tapenade under each one. Press skins down. Heat remaining 2tbsp oil in a large frying pan. brown chicken well on both sides and set aside, then brown the sausages and set aside.

3.    Turn oven up to 220oC (200oC fan) mark 7. In a large, lidded heatproof casserole, layer the chicken, roasted fennel mixture, sausages (scrape in any fat from the pan), lemon juice, rosemary and seasoning. Cover and cook in the oven for 45min.

4.    Empty the cannellini beans, including the liquid, into a separate pan, add the stock cube and heat until dissolved, stir bean mixture into the casserole, arrange Parma ham or prosciutto on top and return to the oven, uncovered, for 30min.

Description: Empty the cannellini beans, including the liquid, into a separate pan, add the stock cube and heat until dissolved

Empty the cannellini beans, including the liquid, into a separate pan, add the stock cube and heat until dissolved

Per serving

458cals, 27g fat (8g saturates), 24g carbs (3g total sugars)

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