My Improv Cassoulet

October 22, 2012 § 6 Comments

So the weather is raw and it’s getting dark out early. The garden is done for this year, except for some kale and chard, lots of parsley and some turnips. I’ve been cleaning up the garden today, yanking up the dead marigolds and raking the little green cherry tomatoes that are scattered everywhere into little piles.

Thoughts turn to dinner.

I remembered the cannellini beans that were soaked and ready to go. Looking at my watch I knew I still had time to cook them. I scanned the refrigerator (in my mind) to see what I had in there that could possibly become the delicious meal that I was now craving.

A piece of ham, with bone. Some beef short ribs. A few pieces of chicken thighs. A few tomatoes.  And the beans.

Put them all together and there was the perfect fall dish that I wish was waiting for me when I went up to the kitchen…but it wasn’t, I had to cook it.

So that’s what I did.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a large stockpot and add some olive oil. Add some cut up onions, or slice them. You’ll need one or two large onions. Remember they shrink down quite a bit, so two might seem like a lot but it’s not. Put the top on and saute until soft.

Push the onions to the side and add whatever meat you have on hand: chicken thighs, a piece of ham, a pork chop, short ribs, sausage. About 4 or 5 pieces of meat will do. Good to have something with a bone on it, bones add so much flavor as well as important nutrients. Brown them a bit. Push them all around in the pan and get them nice and brown. (I know you might not all have these in your fridge, but you don’t need them all, even just a package of chicken thighs will work here)

Add 1 or 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed. Saute for a minute, do not burn.

Add some white wine to deglaze, about a cup. If you don’t have wine, no worries, stock or even water will do. Scrape the sides of the pan to loosen up the flavorful crispy bits clinging to the sides of the pan.

Add the pre-soaked beans to the pot now, about 3 cups worth.

Now just throw in (I use the term loosely) some of the things I think you might have: a tomato or two, a bay leaf, a few sage leaves, one of those pieces of Parmesan that you’ve saved in the freezer (hopefully).

If you have a chili pepper hanging around, prick it (to keep it from exploding) and add that. It’ll add a nice warmth to it.

I also added a piece of kelp, or kombu to this and do with most of my soups and stews. Kelp is high in iodine, minerals and amino acids which helps to break down the proteins in the beans and makes them easier to digest. Less gas forming, in other words. It’s also a bit salty so don’t add salt to this right now.

This is an improv Cassoulet, remember. If you don’t have the chili pepper, that’s fine. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes if you have it. If you don’t, well that’s ok too.

Now you want to cover the beans and meat with with liquid of some sort, preferably stock. Chicken or vegetable. Water if you don’t have that. Though I’m sure you have a freezer full of homemade stock just waiting to go.

Pour in enough of the stock to almost cover the beans, heat until it’s almost to a boil, then cover and put in oven.  Cook until beans are tender, usually about an hour and a half to two hours. The meat will be done at the same time as the beans and the flavors will all be infused into the beans and broth.

Take out about a cup of the beans and mash them with a fork, add them back to the pot to thicken it a bit. The kelp will do a little bit of thickening as well. Remove the kelp strip and cut it into small pieces, add back into the cassoulet.

Now have a taste and see if it needs seasoning, salt, pepper, add some extra grated Parmesan if you like (highly recommended).

And that’s it, quite simple and you can make this a different way each time. Some Italian sausage would be good, or you could use lamb steaks (with bone).

Enjoy with a nice glass (or two) of wine!

Serves 3 to 4.

I want to tell you that you could make this with canned beans, but the taste won’t be anything like if you went to the trouble to pre-soak uncooked ones. Beans are really seeds you know, which means they can be hard to digest. Soaking starts the sprouting process, which then creates enzymes to pre-digest them. And cooking them with the meat and onions and spices infuses them with all the wonderful tastes that make a cassoulet so delicious.

If you still want to use canned beans, which are already cooked, add them at the end as you’re just warming them up. Just cook your meats and extras alone or you’ll end up with a mushy glue-like paste.


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§ 6 Responses to My Improv Cassoulet

  • Margit von Fekete- Waimon says:

    can we come to dinner? I made a version of this with spicy sausage and chicken breast, since Chuck doesn’t like dark meat. I threw in a tomato and a can of organic great northern beans, to save time. It’s really comfort food for the change in temperature.

  • Wish you would come to dinner 🙂

  • cliff says:

    The local Polish deli makes their own kielbasa which i will add. Can’t wait…

  • Great idea. I made it once using sweet Italian sausage from a small farm, it didn’t come in links so I made patties, fried them up a bit and added them towards the end. All the flavors fused together, so good!

  • cliff says:

    I switched the sequence a bit… I browned the onions in this great Polish…stuff: “smalec”. Essentially, pork bits smothered in, and covered with, about an inch of clarified pork fat. Draw your own conclusions, but it’s got a lot of flavor. I put it in everything.

    Then, I removed the onions and fried up the kliebasa slices. *Then* I browned the chix thighs in all that tasty grease. I also managed to find kombu at a Japanese grocery. It seemed to melt away in the cooking, so I didn’t chop it up.

    I’m going to try it with more traditional duck leg confit and mix some bread crumbs with cheese and run it under the broiler to finish— I just got lazy this time. Thanks Agi. A real wintertime keeper.

  • I like that you tried different things with this, that’s what I’m hoping everyone will do with all my recipes. Take the basic recipe and improvise. And I love pork fat! Never heard of “smalec”, will check it out.

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