New England Cassoulet

Like chili, the definition of cassoulet inspires passionate debate.  For this version, I focused on readily available ingredients.  While there's no duck under the hood,  you'll find plenty of rich flavor in this "New England" homage to the classic dish.  The vegetables are cooked separately and combined at the last minute to preserve their independent flavors.

Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes (if beans are prepared and ready to use)
Serves 8-10

6 cups prepared white beans, such as cannellini, flageolet, or great northern* 
2-3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 pound ground sweet Italian sausage
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 cups pearl onions or coarsely chopped onions
3 cups carrots, 1/4 inch dice
1 cup sliced spicy sausage, such as andouille or chorizo
1/4 cup purée of oven dried tomatoes, or tomato paste
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat beans in stock pot with two cups broth to a bare simmer.  The objective here is not to cook the beans, but to make them hot for use when the other components are ready.  Reserve the remaining stock to use later if your cassoulet needs the moisture.

While beans are simmering, heat a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat and cook the sausage, garlic, rosemary, and sage, stirring, for 10 minutes or until done.  Scrape sausage in to a bowl to free up your saute pan.

Melt the butter and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in the saute pan over medium heat, and add the onions.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring.  Add 1/2 inch water in the saute pan, taking care not to splatter yourself.  Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until onions are soft and sweet. Scrape onions and their liquid in to a bowl separate from the sausage.

Heat the olive oil in the saute pan over medium heat and saute the carrots for 4 minutes, stirring.  Carefully add 1/2 inch of water to the skillet.  Bring water to a simmer and cook the carrots for a further 4-5 minutes, or until carrots are just tender crisp. 

Add the sausage to the beans in the stock pot.  With a slotted spoon, add the onions and carrots, reserving the cooking liquid.  Add hot sausage and tomato purée.  Now, add enough onion and carrot cooking water, and the reserved broth, to create a thick stew (this is a matter of taste, I usually add all of the liquid because I love the flavor and the soupy consistency).  Heat to a simmer, stirring.  Serve, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

*If you want to get really serious, Cassoulet Beans (Tarbais Beans) are available through specialty food suppliers, such as Rancho Gordo.

Tip:  If you have multiple skillets or sauté pans and like the challenge of multitasking, you can prepare the sausage, carrots and onions in parallel.  Or, if you have the time and want to minimize the mess, follow the procedure above and cook each component ingredient in turn.

Photo and Recipe by Tod Dimmick

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