This brings me to Beans. What kind of beans? I favor lentils, since they're so tasty, versatile and quick to cook, but I've been doing an awful lot of lentil dishes lately....and I wanted to try something new. And for me, new was actually cooking beans that I had soaked myself. Previous to now, I've never cooked dry beans (except lentils, but those don't count because there's no soaking required!) and have always used canned. I can't say I'll never use canned again (oh the convenience!) but I will admit, this dish came out most tastily. If only I got the camera to cooperate. But alas I was left with a tasty dish, a rumbling stomach and no photos to share. What did I settle on for my IMBB debut? A Cassoulet....and what is a Cassoulet? According to a loose definition, it's a casserole of white beans, various meats, vegetables and herbs - all simmered slowly or baked in a low oven. It's a hearty peasant-style stew and it's a perfect winter dish served up with hunks of rustic bread and perhaps a light salad.
The recipe I used comes from the Kitchen Detective by Chris Kimball of Cooks Illustrated & America's Test Kitchen fame. It's called Quick Cassoulet, and while it was probably quicker than most, it's not something I'd put on for a weeknight dinner...and as usual, I wound up doing some adapting as I went along to suit my own tastes. So, without further ado, here we are:
serves 4 to 6
1 pound dried great Northern or Navy beans, rinsed and picked over
1 small onion, peeled and studded with 8 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 pounds sweet Italian Sausage, removed from casing and crumbled
6 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs (or 3 legs that have been separated into thigh and drumstick), rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart chicken stock
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Combine the beans*, clove-studded onion, bayleaf, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 10 cups of water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to maintain a simmer. Partially cover, and cook 45 to 60 minutes or just until tender. Fish out the onion and bay leaf and discard.
Brown the sausage in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, breaking up any large pieces with a spatula. Remove with a slotted spoon to some paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown well on both sides, doing it in batches if necessary. Once browned, remove the chicken and let it sit cool down. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin (no rubbery skin in this cassoulet!)
Adjust the heat to medium and add the olive oil to the pan. Add the chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft - about five to seven minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional two minutes. Add the wine, and stir well to scrape up all the brown tasty bits stuck on the bottom of the pan. Add in the tomato paste and stir to combine.
Drain off the beans and add them to the Dutch oven along with the chicken, sausage, chicken stock and herbs de Provence. Bring the whole lot to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook covered for 20 to 30 minutes or until the chicken is done (when an instant read thermometer reads 165 in the thickest part of the thigh). Add the rosemary and cook for 10 minutes or more until the beans and chicken are very tender. If, at this point, the braising liquid is very thin, simmer uncovered for a few minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately with chopped parsely and nice big hunks of rustic bread. Enjoy!
*The book says you can forego soaking the beans, but I soaked mine anyway.