DAVID WOODS: A colourful herbal remedy for a gloomy winter

For instant colour and flavour just add fresh herbs says David Woods, executive head chef of the Sofitel London Gatwick.

Herb crusted cassoulet
Herb crusted cassoulet

This dish ticks all the boxes for a post-Christmas hug in a bowl with its bright, rich colours and hearty flavours. It is my simplified version of the traditional French cassoulet dish, but this one won’t take hours to cook and much of it can be done in advance.

I have used fresh herbs from Sofitel’s own indoor herb garden, which we have created in the hotel’s central atrium. It has become quite a talking point among guests. The garden doesn’t fulfil all our herb needs as we use a lot in dishes for both our fine dining restaurant, La Brasserie, and the Urban Café, particularly coriander and basil. But it is great to step out of the kitchen once in a while to snip some herbs for garnishes or to make flavoursome crusts for casseroles. There is something very satisfying about being able to pick your own fresh herbs when you want. They are an instant herbal antidote to these gloomy winter months.

La Brasserie, Sofitel’s 2 AA rosette restaurant, and its Urban Cafe have a new look and a new menu. To book a table call 01293 567070 or email [email protected]

David Woods

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Quick Cassoulet with a Herb Crust

Serves four

For the herb crust:

2 slices of white bread

Butter for spreading

One tablespoon each of fresh chopped thyme, parsley and chives

For the cassoulet:

1 tab olive oil

2 onions, diced

3 cloves of garlic crushed

1 red and 1 orange pepper, deseeded and diced

400g can of cannellini beans or borlotti or butter beans

500ml fresh tomato sauce

Sprigs of thyme

300g Toulouse sausage (available from good supermarkets)

4 duck legs


To make the herb crust, remove the crusts from the bread and spread with butter. Place on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven, 179oC, for 10 minutes until crispy. Blitz in a food processor with the fresh herbs. Keep to one side.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions, diced peppers and garlic until they soften.

Drain the beans from the can and add to the vegetables with the fresh tomato sauce.

Grill the Toulouse sausage under a medium heat until cooked through and brown. Slice the cooked sausage into chunks. Stir into vegetable mix with a few sprigs of thyme. Simmer for 15 mins.

Season the duck legs with salt and pepper and place in a preheated oven, 140oC, for 60 minutes until golden and the core temperature has reached 90oC.

To serve, ladle the vegetable and sausage mixture into bowls. Top with duck legs and sprinkle with a generous layer of herb crust.

Chef’s Tip

The herb crust can be made in advance and frozen. Make double quantities and use to sprinkle on casseroles or coat chicken and fish before baking. The cassoulet sauce can be made 24 hours in advance, then heat through before serving with the roast duck legs and herb crust.

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