Serves 10 to 12:
FOR THE BEANS
2 pounds dried cannellini beans or similar white beans, picked through and rinsed
2 large onions, sliced
2 large carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
flat-leaf italian parsley, 4 or 5 sprigs
fresh thyme, 4 or 5 sprigs
fresh rosemary, 1 or 2 sprigs
bay leaves, 1 0r 2
6 to 10 cloves of garlic, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
FOR TOMATO & VEGETABLE SAUCE
4 oz of pancetta, large dice, about 1 cup
2 large carrots, peeled & sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and sliced
1 large yellow or red onion, sliced
stems from a bunch of flat-leaf Italian parsley, small diced
6 (or to taste) cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 oz. whole peeled tomatoes, (San Marzano, if available) drained and chopped
red wine, 1 cup
oil from chicken confit
salt and pepper, to taste
2 pounds chicken confit, (recipe below)
10 fresh chicken sausages (Bilinski’s Pesto Romano & Mild Italian), http://www.bilinski.com/productsANC.cfm
1 package dried porcini mushrooms, 5 oz.
chicken stock, 4 to 6 cups, home made or use good packaged salt free or low sodium stock so you can control the seasoning in the cassoulet)
6 to 10 cloves (to taste) of garlic confit, or fresh garlic, sliced
flat-leaf italian parsley, approximately 1/2 cup, rough chopped
3 cups of fresh bread crumbs, or Panko bread crumbs
1 cup of pistou (recipe below), or purchased pesto
oil from chicken confit
salt and pepper, to taste
COOKING AND FINAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CASSOULET
COOKING THE BEANS
Place beans in a large bowl, cover with cold water and soak overnight.
Drain the beans, rinse them several times and place in large heavy pan, such a Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron French Oven, along with the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Tie parsley, thyme, rosemary and bay with kitchen string, or wrap in cheese cloth to form a bouquet garni. Add the bouquet garni to the pot and cover the beans with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, remove any foam from the top of the water, cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the beans are just tender, but still retain their shape. Add additional water, if necessary, so the beans do not become dry. For cannellini beans, the cooking time should be about 1 1/4 hours. The time, however, will vary with the age and type of beans, so it is a good idea to check the beans after 30 t0 45 minutes (taste several beans, as they may cook unevenly) and continue checking frequently after that point (they will cook for several additional hours in the cassoulet). Chez Bettay, The Vegan Gourmet has a helpful table showing the cooking times for various beans.
Remove beans from heat, add a pinch of salt and pepper and let them cool in the cooking liquid for about 30 minutes. Drain, remove bouquet garni and set aside to cool. Add the sliced cloves of garlic confit and several tablespoons of the infused oil from the chicken confit, gently stir, taste, adjust seasoning, if necessary and let rest.
PREPARE THE DRIED PORCINI MUSHROOMS
To rehydrated the mushrooms, soak them in boiling water for about 20 minutes, or until they are soft. There may be some dirt in the bottom of the liquid, so remove the mushrooms carefully with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the mushroom liquid in to a bowl, but stop before you reach any dirt in the bottom and reserve the liquid. When the porcini mushrooms are cool, add them to the beans.
COOKING THE TOMATO & VEGETABLE SAUCE
Preheat a large saute pan and add the pancetta. Saute over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta and reserve. Do not clean the pan and add a few teaspoons of olive oil from the chicken confit to the pan, if needed. Add the onions, carrots, celery, fennel, parsley stems, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Saute until the vegetables become soft and translucent. Add the sliced garlic and saute for a few minutes. Then add the tomato paste, mix into the vegetables and saute for about 5 minutes more. Add the red wine, increase the heat to medium high, and reduce by 1/2. Add the tomatoes and, check the seasoning. Continue to cook until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened. Cool, add to the bean mixture and gently stir.
At this point you can refrigerate the cool bean mixture for 1 to 3 days, return to room temperature and continue—or just continue.
ASSEMBLING AND COOKING THE CASSOULET
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Preheat a grill on high for direct cooking. Oil the grill and grill chicken confit until crispy and golden brown on both sides, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. (watch carefully to make sure the chicken does not burn). At the same time, place the sausage on the grill and cook until they are brown and crisp on the outside, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the chicken and the sausage when they are finished and let cool.
Remove the chicken from the bone, shred and place in a bowl. Cut the sausages into quarters and add to the same bowl.
Taste the bean mixture, adjust seasoning and add 1/2 of the bean mixture to the bottom of a cassole, such as the one from Clay Coyote pottery, or another large (7 1/4 to 9 quart) heavy pot, such as the Le Creuset Enameled Cast-iron French Oven. And, if you are not sure whether to use the conical cassole or the round pot, well you might wish to see how the French view the issue.
In any case, regardless of the shape of the pot, place the shredded chicken confit and sausage evenly over the beans and cover with the remaining bean mixture. Add the reserved mushroom liquid and then the chicken stock until it is just below the top of the beans. You should be able to see the stock, but it should not cover the beans. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake uncovered for 1 hour and check the texture of the beans. If they are not tender enough, cook for an additional 15 to 30 minutes and check again. Add additional stock if the beans are becoming too dry. When the beans reach the proper texture for you, taste and check the seasoning. At this stage you can cool the bean mixture and refrigerate for 1 to 3 days, then bring to room temperature, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and continue or just continue.
Sprinkle 1/2 of the bread crumbs on top of the cassoulet and continue cooking for 20 minutes. Gently push the bread crumbs down into the cassoulet and add the remaining 1/2 of the bread crumbs to the top of the cassoulet and drizzle a bit of the chicken-infused olive oil as well. Continue cooking until the top of the cassoulet is crispy, golden brown and bubbling, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. (If the top is not crispy enough, you can stick it under a preheated broiler for approximately 1 minute. Watch it carefully to avoid burning.)
Remove the cassoulet from the oven and it rest for about 15 to 30 minutes to allow the juices to thicken.
You can add a spoon of pistou, or purchased pesto, on each serving or pass a separate bowl with the pistou and let your guests add it if they wish. You might also like to add a drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil, or chicken- infused oil, and perhaps some freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a light salad, such as an apple fennel salad, good crusty bread, and your favorite wine.
You should view this recipe, as you should any recipe, as a technique, one of many, for making this particular dish. Once you understand the technique you can modify any recipe in a way that appeals to you. For this cassoulet recipe you can use grilled or roasted chicken, lamb stew, pork confit or virtually any meat and sausage combination that you like. You can easily eliminate the meat entirely and make a vegetarian cassoulet. I have made the same recipe without any meat and added tuscan kale to the tomato & vegetable sauce. The kale was sauteed in olive oil and garlic and then braised in some chicken stock until tender.
Two key points to remember, however, when you are modifying a recipe, or even following it verbatim, are first, watch the timing, and second, taste frequently. The timing in this recipe, as well as any other one, will vary with the actual ingredients that you use, your equipment, stove, oven, and other factors. The solution is to test and taste each dish as it is cooking. If a recipe says 30 minutes, check and taste it after 15 minutes.
It is also important to taste a dish frequently. When you make a dish, especially one with as many stages as cassoulet, you want to build levels of flavor at each step. Seasoning is an important part of that process. But you also need to consider the salt content of ingredients such as pancetta, bacon, commercial stock and adjust accordingly.