Nearly Vegetarian Cassoulet
TOTAL TIME: one hour active prep time
SERVING SIZE: serves 6-8
1 pound flageolet, white beans, cannellini or pea beans, rinsed then soaked overnight
1/4 pound slab bacon, cut in 1/2-inch dice (optional)
1 split pig's foot or ham hock (optional)
2 carrots sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 cup onions, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced leeks (rinsed well)
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon salt (probably more to taste, particularly if omitting pork products)
Bouquet garni (4 sprigs each thyme, rosemary, parsley tied together with butchers twine)
1/2 cup tomato sauce or tomato puree
1 quart meat stock, vegetable stock or water
1 cup toasted bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced fresh herbs (choose a few from parsley, oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, chervil)
1 tablespoon melted butter or olive oil
1 cup each, all peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks, shape not important -- turnips, beets, parsnips, rutabaga, celery root, winter squash
1 cup trimmed, blanched Brussels sprouts, halved if larger than 1 inch
1 1/2 cups blanched kale leaves, coarsely chopped
- Rinse the beans, then soak in water (covered by 2 inces) overnight. Rinse again and drain.
- In a heavy stockpot set over medium heat, add the diced bacon and pork products and a small splash (1 tablespoon) olive oil. If omitting pork, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and go to step 3. Let the bacon cook for a couple of minutes. (This is relatively unimportant, but a little caramelization can be nice.)
- Add the carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, pepper flakes and salt and cook for a few more minutes over slightly higher heat until a little color starts to show itself on the vegetables.
- Add the beans, bouquet garni, tomato and stock (if using). Add just enough liquid (stock or water) so that it covers the beans by an inch or so and bring to a simmer. Cook the beans, covered if possible, until almost done. The time will vary depending upon which type of bean you use, but will probably take between 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Periodically check the liquid level; there should be just enough to almost cover the beans when they're done. Add more water as needed. Almost done means the beans are holding their shape and are still a little resistant to the tooth -- like garbanzo beans from a can. Remove from heat and adjust salt and pepper level. Let cool. (A version using canned beans follows, but even I was able to pull this off with real beans!)
- While the beans cook and cool, par-roast the vegetables. Toss each type of root vegetable and the squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Keeping them separate, roast in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until a little browned, but also still a little crunchy in the center. I guess you'd call this not easily pierced by a fork. Toss the blanched Brussels sprouts and kale with a little oil, salt and pepper and set aside.
- Mix the bread crumbs with half the fresh, chopped herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and butter or olive oil.
- In a shallow casserole (a 9 x 13-inch glass pan works well), arrange the beans in a 1 to 2-inch layer and top with the seasoned bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
- Arrange the vegetables over the top of the beans in any pattern (or no pattern). Return the cassoulet to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.
- Remove, sprinkle the other half of the fresh herbs on top, and eat!
Note: It is possible to prep all of the elements the day before you intend to serve the cassoulet. Keep them separate and refrigerated until it's time to assemble, then heat thoroughly.
The Canned Bean Option
Instead of dried beans, use 4 standard-sized cans of beans (15 ounces).
- Drain and rinse the beans.
- Cook the pork until brown (leaving it in for added flavor), then sweat the carrots, onions and leeks in the rendered fat until very soft and fully cooked, about 10 minutes. (Be aware of over-salting if the beans are salted, which most canned beans are.)
- Then add in the drained, rinsed beans along with the tomato sauce and proceed to step 5, above.
Though it will taste better if you use dried beans, it will still be good with canned. If you decide to go for this version, though, Sargent strongly recommends using at least some pork to add flavor.