I combine several recipes for my own version of the cassoulet and I don’t think that I’ve make a cassoulet the same twice. That’s the beauty of this dish — it is versatile and can be adapted to accommodate available ingredients. But I warn you it is time-consuming (much like love!) so allow enough time to prepare it properly. I usually begin the preparation at least a day ahead of the serving time for the process cannot be hurried. The beauty of this dish is that it can be adjusted to taste; add more or less garlic and herbs. The flavoring is based entirely on individual taste.
Required ingredients (all easy to find in our area):
1 lb. of dried Great Northern beans
2 quarts of water
32 ounces of chicken broth (I prefer Swansons)
2 sprigs of fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon thyme
1 ½ lb. boneless pork shoulder
6 slices of thick-sliced applewood-smoked bacon (you can find it at Walmart)
1 onion chopped
2 or 3 garlic cloves finely chopped, 3 or more whole cloves, halved
Small package of baby carrots
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon (or more) minced garlic
5-6 tablespoons of olive oil
1 ½ cups coarse bread crumbs (I use Pepperidge Farm herb-seasoned crumbs)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 duck or chicken legs (I have always used chicken because duck is hard to find and it works out fine)
3 or 4 links of chicken garlic sausage (I found this at Ingles)
Generous splash of sherry wine vinegar
3 leeks, sliced
2 stalks of chopped celery
I begin with soaking the white beans overnight. After washing and draining them the next day, I put them in a big pot with the water and chicken broth and a large herb bouquet. The herb bouquet is made by cutting a square of cheesecloth, placing the parsley, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns and thyme in the middle of the square and tying it securely with a piece of kitchen string. The herb bouquet is cooked with the beans on top of the stove on low heat for an hour to one and 1/2 hours or until beans are just tender. Leave the beans in their cooking liquid until ready to use, then drain but reserve the cooking liquid.
Fry the bacon slabs in an iron skillet. Remove the bacon when almost done and brown the pork shoulder roast on all sides in the bacon grease. The grease needs to be hot and it will smoke some. When all the sides are browned, return the bacon slices to the top of the pork roast. Cover the skillet with heavy duty aluminum foil and bake in a 325 degree oven for 3-4 hours. Check it every hour or so and add some water if it looks dry. You will want the pork to be falling-apart done when you take it from the oven.
While the pork is cooking, sauté the onions in some olive oil for about 5-10 minutes until they are opaque and add the garlic cloves (both chopped and whole) and sauté with the onions for about 2 minutes or until you have lightly browned the garlic. If you want to add leeks and/or celery, this is the time to sauté them along with the onions and garlic.
Cook the carrots in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain the water and add some honey to the carrots. Set aside.
Remove the pork shoulder from the skillet when it is done and while it is cooling in a bowl, cook the duck or chicken legs in the grease that is still left in the skillet. When the legs are browned and done (no blood seeping through), remove them to a plate lined with paper towel to drain.
Brown the sausage links in the grease, adding a little olive oil if the skillet gets too dry. Remove the sausage links to a paper towel lined plate.
Now it is time to assemble the cassoulet. This is the fun part. First pull apart the pork shoulder roast. It should pull apart easily if it is well-done. I just shred it with my fingers or a fork into bite-sized pieces. Next I spread the beans, pork pieces, onion/garlic mixture, carrots, chicken legs, sliced sausage links and about 3-4 cups of the reserved broth into an earthenware (or cast iron—plenty to choose from at Walmart if you don’t have one) oven-proof bowl. I stir this mixture a couple of times, then sprinkle some salt, pepper, thyme and some fresh parsley over the mix. This is optional but I like a savory mix. Bake in the covered container for about 30-45 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.
While the cassoulet is baking, assemble the bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Sauté the minced garlic in a cleaned skillet mixed with hot olive oil over moderate heat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the bread crumb mixture and stir until crumbs are crisp and golden, about three minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in parsley.
Serve the cassoulet with crumb topping. This is a one-dish meal and needs only a loaf of French bread (the Baggett looks and tastes best) and maybe a simple green salad to accompany it. Serve in sturdy bowls with cloth napkins and light candles. This is a meal made from and for love.
Pear Tarte Tatin
This is an easy dessert but it looks beautiful and elegant when served and it makes a lovely presentation for the one or ones that you love. You can substitute apples or plums for the pears but the pears are really delicious.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
½ stick of butter (use butter not margarine)
½ cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoon honey
2 pounds (about 6 medium) firm-ripe pears, cored and peeled
½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
½ teaspoon powered nutmeg (freshly grated if you have it)
Working on a clean and floured surface, roll the pastry dough into an 11 inch circle and chill it.
Melt the butter in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Add the sugar and cook it for 4 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to evenly caramelize the sugar. The sugar is done when it has turned a medium golden brown hue. (If you cook it too long—as I did the first time!—it will turn to a hard caramel candy and you will need to scrap out the mess and start over!) Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the honey and set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the pears in half and toss them gently but thoroughly with the lemon zest and nutmeg. Arrange the pears in a single layer in the hot caramel and honey in the skillet.
Drape the pastry over the spiced pears, fitting the overhang down between the fruit and the sides of the skillet. Bake in the preheated oven 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry turns golden brown. Cool the tart Tatin in the skillet for 30 minutes before inverting it onto a serving plate.
Serve slices warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top and voila! You have a beautiful dessert that is unique and made with love.