It is one of my favourite holidays of the year: the October long weekend. After a spate of public holidays in the earlier half of the year, it was previously a long wait from June until December for another holiday. Whoever came up with the idea of relocating a public holiday to the second half of the year is a genius.
For this long weekend, we decided to go camping with some friends in Namadgi National Park. The national park is about 50 minutes south west of Canberra or four hours south west of Sydney. After six driving hours, various navigational errors, a dog kennel detour and scenic route choices by some people who shall remain nameless, we arrived. The scenery was worth the long drive: it was spectacular, with sweeping green pastures and tall snow gum eucalyptus trees. The sun was just beginning to go down as we arrived, and so we quickly set up the campsite before nightfall. We were joined at dusk by a small mob of wallabies. They were quite bold, and seemed to watch us set up with some amusement. As night fell, they carefully and slowly came closer to watch the dancing flames of our fire. We could later hear them bouncing around nearby our tents while we (or tried to) slept.
The campground where we stayed was called Honeysuckle, and it has some pretty cool history. It is the site of the former NASA tracking station, which was the first station to receive and relay images to the world of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. There is not much left of the tracking station today, just a couple of odd looking concrete slabs. We saw an amazing array of stars at night time though; unfortunately I left the camera attachment for my tripod at home, so sadly I was unable to capture any of them. Argh!
I had volunteered to arrange the food for our little group for the weekend. We needed a meal that would be easy to prepare in low light, which could be cooked over an open fire, which required little refrigeration (we were camping for two nights with 25-30C temperatures during the day) and which was filling and hearty in the cool evening after a day’s hike exploring the countryside. A bean “cassoulet” fit the bill: none of the ingredients required refrigeration, were easily assembled with a pocket knife and required minimal preparation at the campground. The boys built an amazing little makeshift stove top with rocks and logs, with two “burners” over an open fire – and we were off!
This recipe is not a typical “cassoulet” as it is not cooked in the traditional cooking vessel nor does it contain duck or pork slow cooked for hours. It is however easily assembled from common pantry ingredients, including tin tomatoes and beans and with some simple vegetables and spices. It was served with sausages (cooked on the second tier of the makeshift stove), stale bread for mopping up the sauces and cobs of corn cooked in the fire coals. And of course, follow by marshmallows. This recipe serves 4.
- 1 large brown onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 red chilli, chopped*
- 200g cherry tomatoes
- 400g button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika*
- 1 teaspoon celtic sea salt*
- 2 x 400g tin tomatoes
- 2 x 400g tin beans (we used one tin of borlotti beans and one butter beans), rinsed
- A bunch of spinach, kale or a couple of handfuls of baby spinach, chopped into ribbons
- Dried grated parmesan (for serving)
- Stale bread (optional – for serving)
- A couple of sausages** and cobs of corn (optional – for serving)
- Olive oil, for cooking
- Saute the onion, garlic and chilli in olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan until translucent.
- Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, paprika and salt and cook for another few minutes until the mushrooms are cooked.
- Add the tinned tomatoes and beans, and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes until the sauce reduces.
- Stir in the spinach until it wilts.
- Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of parmesan and if using, some bread and/or sausages on the side.
* I usually mix the spices/salt etc in a small ziplock bag before leaving home, which makes it easy to cook with at the campsite, and also leaves saves packing space. Feel free to use dried chills flakes in lieu of the fresh chilli.
** We froze the sausages overnight at home, and stored them in an esky/coolbox with ice packs in the shade.