Several years ago, I found a “quick” recipe for a self defeating cassoulet that fails to capture the meaty bean flavors of this classic French dish. Like any rich stew, cassoulet ingredients need to cook slowly to enhance the flavors. A classic cassoulet from the former province of Languedoc starts with duck or goose confit with a pork sausage and other meats like lamb or bacon cooked with dry white cannellini beans in a round pot with slanted sides. Elizabeth David who wrote lyrically about food in French Provincial Cooking describes the cassoulet as:
a dish which may be infinitely varied so long as it is not made into a mockery with a sausage or two heated up with tinned beans, or with all sorts of bits of left-over chicken or goodness knows what thrown into it as if it were a dustbin.
This simple version uses smoked sausage (which can be any variation of pork, chicken or turkey) with a colorful array of canned beans (cannellini and dark and light red kidney) cooked in a large enameled cast iron pot. My inelegant recipe with tinned beans may not meet Ms. David’s standards but makes a delicious meal with much less fuss and improved upon the “quick” version with which I started.
I count sautéing the sausage, adding white wine and celery leaves, and more cooking time among my improvements to this recipe. Sautéing the smoked sausage (even if already cooked) leaves a char in the bottom of the pot which adds meaty complexity when deglazed with the mirepoix. Adding a cup of Chardonnay or other dry white wine to the mirepoix when the onion becomes translucent adds sweetness and depth. Celery leaves reserved from the chopped stalks in the recipe add a delicate herbal flavor. Finally, this version gives more time for the meaty and creamy bean flavors to come forward.
Serve this hearty comfort food to up to a dozen people with a long buttered French baguette and a fresh green salad.
Smoked Sausage and Three Bean Cassoulet
- 3 tbsp canola oil
- 26-32 oz smoked sausage, sliced
- 5-6 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 5-6 celery stalks, chopped
- 3 small onions, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 cup white wine
- 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 15 oz can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cans (15 oz) petite diced tomatoes
- 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup water
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 3-4 tbsp celery leaves, chopped
- 3-4 tbsp, Italian parsley, chopped
- Bring oil to medium heat in a large, enameled cast iron pot on the stove. Add sliced sausage in small batches and brown to a crisp on each side. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
- Add mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot) and garlic to the pot. Stir thoroughly to deglaze meat char in pot. Cover with lid for a few minutes. Stir and cover again until the onions become translucent. Add wine and stir again.
- Add the sausage, beans, tomatoes, bay leaves and thyme. Add just enough water to cover ingredients in the pot. Bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low, replace lid, and cook for 45 minutes with several breaks for stirring the pot.
- Remove bay leaves. Add salt, pepper, parsley and celery leaves. Serve in bowls.