Cassoulet is a dish named for the deep baking dish in which it's made. The dish is deep to keep the beans moist and wide at the top to encourage a slow baked crust on top.
I grow these extraordinary beans in my garden called Marrowfats. (In France they are called Coco Blanc). Creamy and plump, these beans are an heirloom variety of the navy bean - and in my opinion, it's one of the best baking beans out there.
About 4 years ago, a good friend and I took a three hour train ride from Bordeaux to Touluse to try cassoulet at a local restaurant recommened by Kate Hill, the queen of cassoulet. (She's even written a book called, aptly, Cassoulet.) Then the next day, over lunch at her home, Kate and I shared our passion for this amazing dish. And in the afternoon, we headed to a local nursery to buy some bean seeds recommended by Kate. Turns out, it was just the beans I was growing at home. But I added these newly acquired seeds to my garden - and I'd like to think a little bit of France infused my California beans.
Kate shared one of her favorite recipes for cassoulet with me that day, and I've adapted it here to share with you. And you can certainly make it your own with your favorite beans from your garden. The layered fruit and silky tannins of Sanglier's Boar's Camp enliven this hearty and rich dish. -Melissa
2 lbs dried white beans
(rehydrate the beans by soaking several hours or overnight in water. You can also bring to a boil and let sit one hour).
1 whole carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled
4 cloves-studded into the onion
2-4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, parsley tied together)
1 ham hock or ham bone (not smoked)
1/2 lb. pork belly
1/4 lb pancetta or salt pork (hearty thick slice)
- Place all of the ingredients in a large stock pot with a lid. Add water to cover by 2 inches and do not add salt at this time.
- Bring the beans to a boil then turn down to simmer and cook gently for 45-60 minutes or until beans and broth are done. The beans will be cooked and barely tender, their skins papery and beginning to collapse. Add 2 tsp. of salt at this time. The cooking liquid should look milky, not clear, and taste delicious enough to eat immediately.
1 duck leg confit per person ( I use D'artagnan)
2 lbs or 1 link per person Toulouse or mild italian sausages
Additionally, you can add lamb shanks, pork, etc. as you choose
- Scrape some of the fat from duck confit and if legs are larger, separate thighs from the drumstick.
- In a frying pan, starting with the skin side of the duck confit, brown on both sides until crisp and golden. Transfer to a plate and add the sausages to the pan. Just brown rather than cook all the way through. Cut in half crosswise and add to plate with confit.
Step 3: Building the Cassoulet
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F
Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Remove the onion and discard the cloves. Take out the carrot, pancetta, ham bone, and pork belly. Slice the pork belly into 1 inch slices and set aside half to use when assembling cassoulet. Chop the onion, carrot and pancetta and return to the beans along with any ham or hock meat taken from the bones. Stir gently without breaking up the beans. Add black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning adding more salt if necessary.
Using a deep 7-qt. casserole or dutch oven, ladle beans to cover bottom by 1-inch or thick base layer. Add the confit in a second layer, then add another layer of beans. Place the sausage on top of this layer and finish with the final layer of beans. Add the slices of pork belly to the top of the cassoulet so they baste the top crust and get crisp. Add just enough bean stock to barely cover the beans. Save remaining stock for basting.
Transfer to oven and let bake slowly for 3 hours. Break the crust 2-3 times by pushing down into the juices with a wooden spoon as needed. Baste with broth as needed.
When done, remove from the oven and serve directly from pan at the table. Make sure to include a piece of duck and sausage in each serving.