Sunday, November 24, 2013

Quick cassoulet – bean-and-sausage casserole

Julia Child does cassoulet in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it is a triumph of exhausting preparation and long cooking.  The recipe goes on for four pages, and includes pork loin, sausage, beans, bacon, and optionally duck or goose confit. 

Probably not the best choice for dinner on a Tuesday evening.

My version does require a tiny bit of forethought – soaking the beans, but not much beyond that.  

1 lb dry white beans (like Great Northern, navy, or cannellini)
About 8 – 10 cups water, to cover
2 tsp baking soda

8 cups fresh water (not the bean soaking liquid)
1 onion
1 rib celery
A couple cloves of garlic
Bay leaf
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

2 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
Dry herbs – thyme, sage, marjoram

Cover 1 lb white beans  with about 8 cups of cool water.  Add baking soda (which aids the cooking later).  Cover, and let sit in a cool place overnight. 

Drain the beans and discard the soaking water, and dump the beans into a Dutch oven.  Cover with another 8 cups of water, and toss in a peeled, halved onion, a stalk of celery, a couple cloves of peeled garlic, a bay leaf, and a few sprigs of thyme (or a teaspoon dried thyme), and a sprig of sage (or a bit of dried sage), and good teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Drizzle a glug of olive oil over all.  

 Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer gently partly covered until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Having been soaked earlier in water containing baking soda, the beans will cook fairly quickly, and should be fully tender within an hour’s simmering.  The water level should be at the top of the beans or just below.  Test the beans carefully for doneness, and test for seasoning, too.  Remove the veggies and herb sprigs if you’d like. 

While the beans are cooking, roast a pound of Italian sausage in the oven until browned. 

Nestle the sausage links into the beans.

Film a heated skillet with the olive oil, add the crushed garlic, and cook very briefly until fragrant.  Add the fresh bread crumbs and the herbs, and saute briefly until the crumbs are very lightly toasted (they’ll have the opportunity to brown more later). 

Sprinkle toasted crumbs atop the beans and sausage, and pop the Dutch oven, uncovered, into a 375°F oven for about 15 minutes, until the casserole is bubbly, and the crumbs nicely browned.  

Optional additions: you can pretty much add whatever meat you’d like to the beans prior to baking.  I’ve done this with sausage and big chunks of pork belly.  No reason you couldn’t add a broiled lamb chop or two, or a couple roasted chicken thighs. 

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