When I was first learning to cook, I was game to try anything that sounded fancy and impressive, irrespective of the grunt work involved. I had time on my hands, lazy weekends with nothing to do but visit the farmers’ markets and make a mess in my kitchen.
Cassoulet was one of my early dishes. With loads of slow-cooked beans and plenty of pork fat, it’s the kind of food that speaks my language.
My first attempt was a several day affair. I had to source the salt pork, boneless lamb shoulder, and fresh pork skin. I made my own chicken broth, and pre-soaked my beans. Although I couldn’t get my hands on real Toulouse sausage and didn’t make my own Duck confit, it was a decent first try.
And it was good. A hardened French peasant might have questioned my technique, but I’m certain that I could have fooled most people on this side of the Atlantic.
If you’re eager to try your hand at authentic cassoulet, I recommend the book Real Stew by Clifford Wright. Along with the cassoulet, it’s full of inspiring stew recipes from around the world, from Bedouin Lamb and Mushroom Stew to Veal Paprikash and Czech-style Goulash. And of course, there’s a fantastic selection of chili recipes, which, have inspired me to make this, and this, and this. It’s one of my dog-eared, wine-splashed favorites.
Now I’m guessing that most people don’t have the desire or the time to spend 3 days preparing a dish. Even Clifford Wright’s quick cassoulet takes serious effort. But I don’t want you to miss out on making this dish at home because a simple version can be made in an hour. I make mine with ingredients that you’ll likely have on hand. No Toulouse sausage, no pork skin. Just raid your pantry and most of the items should be there.
Flavorful sausage is a must. I’m lucky enough to have a butcher in the neighborhood who makes some of the best sausage in the city – Cotechino with parmesan, Lamb Merguez, Irish bangers, Wild Boar. For this recipe, I used his famous Porchetta sausage flavored with fennel, sage, and bay leaf. The sausage gives this dish most of its flavor, so if you’re using cardboard, your final dish will taste like cardboard.
Along with the support cast of good smoked bacon, white wine, baby white beans and fresh bread crumbs, it’s one of those meals that you can’t really screw up.
If you screw it up, put an egg on it.
Winter is speeding to a close, so dust off those Dutch ovens and casserole dishes for one last tour of duty. By mid-April, the warmer weather will hit, ramps will show up at the farmers’ markets, and we’ll all be making salads and sautéing fiddlehead ferns.
You’ve never made fiddlehead ferns?
We must fix that. Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I’ll dive into some of my favorite springtime treasures at the farmers’ market. I’ve eaten enough radishes and root vegetables to last me a lifetime. Spring veggies are calling. I can hear them. Until their voices get louder, let’s console ourselves with cassoulet.
- 2 well-seasoned pork sausages (Sage, Cotechino, Fennel, etc.)
- 1 8oz package of good quality bacon, I like Applegate Farms’ Sunday bacon
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- 2 tablespoons of tomato puree
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 2 14-hounce cans of cannellini or other small white beans, rinsed and drained.
- 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced finely
- 1 Tablespoon herbes de Provence
- Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped and divided
- 2 cups of fresh breadcrumbs
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Add the sausages on one side, and snip the bacon with kitchen shears onto the other side.
- Cook the sausages and bacon, stirring frequently, so that the sausage is cooked through and the bacon is crisp.
- If the sausage cooks firs, remove it and continue to cook the bacon a minute or two more.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and using a slotted spoon, drain the bacon onto a paper towel.
- Pour off the bacon grease into a cup (reserving as you’ll use some of it later), and leave 1 Tablespoon in the pan.
- When cool, dice the sausage into large chunks and add, along with the bacon, into a large bowl.
- Put the pan back on the heat on medium, and add the onion and carrot and a pinch of salt.
- Sautee the vegetables until soft (about 6-8 minutes).
- When the vegetables are almost done, add the tomato paste, and sautee for another minute.
- Add the wine, and deglaze the pan, scraping at all of the brown bits. Cook the wine down for a minute or two until the vegetables have lost most of their liquid.
- Scrape the vegetables into the bowl with the bacon and sausage.
- Add the liquid to the bowl with the vegetables and the meat.
- Add the beans to the bowl, along with the diced tomatoes, herbes de Provence and all but 1 Tablespoon of the parsley.
- Toss to combine and season with a little more salt & pepper.
- Add your beans mixture to a medium sized casserole dish, or 2 individual-serving casserole dishes.
- In a separate bowl, toss your fresh breadcrumbs with the remaining parsley, and moisten with a few Tablespoons of the leftover bacon grease.
- Season the breadcrumbs with a little salt, and then scatter over your baking dish(es).
- Cover your dishes with foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes; uncover, and bake for another 20 minutes.
- Serve with crusty bread, or as we like to do, with a poached egg on top.