All right, I haven't always told the truth when it comes to affairs of the heart. I am a liar. And a no good cheatin' two timer. It all started with an innocent run around in Paris. Undeniably the world's most romantic city. I wandered the streets looking for love. A fashionably svelte interlude at the Hotel Crillon? Too expensive. Perhaps something more natural and affordable in the Latin Quarter - non, non...I wanted to savor this indiscretion. I was seeking the best cassoulet I could find in this overwhelmingly gorgeous city.
I walked discreetly through the 6th arrondisement avoiding Jacques Cagna's expensive flagship namesake. I craved something tawdry and cheap. Peasant food. But there she was - the bistro La Rotisserie d'en Face. Understated and elegant. I sat down shamelessly calling out my desire. The two of us. Alone. Me, with my fork, playfully amused at the bubbling earthenware dish. And every bite of that cassoulet made me want more. Rich. Warm. Smooth. Soulful. When I was done there was only one word to describe this sensational entanglement. Afterglow.
I haven't been totally honest with you. I know I have written in the past that I favor cooking techniques more than specific types of foods or cuisines as I have written about here. OK. I'll admit it. I have straight out lied to you about this and I am sorry. I actually have a favorite food. And it is cassoulet. A love affair really.
You know how in some Eastern religions, such as Hinduism, where you are reincarnated and come back in the next life as a higher form than your previous existence? I want to come back as cassoulet. But there is one little problem. And since I am coming clean about my past I'll admit I am not just a liar. I am bearing my soul right now. I'm a cheater too.
I cannot stand the process of making a traditional cassoulet. Anything that takes three days to prepare and countless hours to come out of the oven - well let's just say I'll pay someone else for that guilty pleasure. Soaking beans overnight. Breaking and re-doing the crust of the baked stew as it soaks up cooking liquid in a hot oven. It's really too much for any one person to undertake. However, I can't begin to describe the delight of a perfectly executed French cassoulet. A rich and thick garlicky base. Beans that are creamy yet firm. A touch of thyme, my all "time" favorite herb. And then there are those meats. Duck confit. Sausages. Bacon or lardon. Nestled warmly in an earthenware dish under a duvet of golden crisp breadcrumbs. Excuse me, I need a moment to myself.
All that said, I like to make "cheaters" cassoulet if I am not ordering off a menu. Not as good as the original mind you. But in a pinch it's hard to beat. Cassoulet typically uses a white bean, such as a cannellini, although I also have had excellent versions with lentils. And the meats can be whatever you enjoy. Lamb, duck breast, pancetta, or cubes of pork. I am a sucker for duck and fortunately you can find reasonably priced duck confit nowadays at gourmet supermarkets like Whole Foods. I almost always buy a duck confit and crisp it in the oven for cheaters cassoulet. It gets you close to the original with virtually no work.
And the beans. I used pre-cooked and canned cannellinis. Sure you can buy dried ones, pick them over for rocks, and soak them overnight for the traditional experience. But why do all that when the final product of this method is only marginally better? I'm just saying...
A cold evening. A warm dish of cassoulet with a glass of Cote du Rhone. Thoughts of Paris running through my mind...I'll two-time any day for a little of that action.
Recipe for Easy "Cheaters" Cassoulet
2 duck confit legs
2 sausages (Italian, Garlic, whatever you like), cut into 1/2 inch rounds
4 oz applewood smoked bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 yellow onion cut in 1/2 inch dice
2 carrots cut into 1/4 inch dice
6 garlic gloves, peeled and thinly sliced
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 C chopped peeled Italian tomatoes
2 14 oz cans of cooked cannellini (white kidney) beans
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 C fresh bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
3 Tbsp butter
Heat an oven to 400 degrees or 375 if using a convection oven. Butter a 13 inch earthenware dish.
In a large oven proof skillet (14 inch diameter) place duck confit legs and roast in the oven for 15 minutes until crisp. In a bowl combine chopped onion, carrot, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and sliced garlic.
Remove skillet from oven and set duck confit legs aside. Heat skillet over medium heat. Add chopped bacon and cook until crisp, about 3 minutes. Move bacon to the side of the skillet and brown sausage on both sides about 3 to 4 minutes. Add duck confit legs back into the skillet. Add vegetables and cook until nicely carmelized and soft, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and beans. Cook for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat until are ingredients are blended. Add enough water to just cover the beans and bring to a boil. Carefully remove the duck confit with tongs into the earthenware baking dish and then cover with the beans mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven for 35 minutes.
Combine bread crumbs, minced garlic and chopped parsley in a bowl. Melt butter. Remove foil from baking dish. Season cassoulet with a dash or two of cayenne pepper, salt and ground black pepper. Cover cassoulet with breadcrumb mixture and drizzle melted butter over the top. Cook uncovered for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and let the dish rest 2-3 minutes while your dining partners ogle over how beautiful your hot little dish is. Serve.