Sausage is an essential component of cassoulet, a slow-simmered mix of beans, herbs and meats. This classic dish from southern France's Languedoc region is perfect for gatherings of family and friends on a chilly afternoon "with a fire in the background, and a glass of wine in hand," says Diane Fraser, owner of Cucina Fine Foods Market and Catering.
Diane Fraser of Cucina in Church Hill (314 N. 25th St., 243-8753) provided this recipe. Having moved to the current location about a year ago, Cucina began offering prepared entrées, including cassoulet, for carryout in the last few months. (Serves 6 to 8.)
1 pound of dry great Northern beans
10 tablespoons of duck fat or olive oil
16 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 large ham hocks
1 pound of pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1⁄2 pound of pancetta, cubed
2 teaspoons of ground sage
4 sprigs of oregano (or 2 teaspooons ground)
4 sprigs of thyme (or 2 teaspooons ground)
3 bay leaves
1 cup of whole peeled canned tomatoes
1 cup of white wine
2 cups of chicken broth
4 confit duck legs (optional)
1 pound of pork sausages
2 cups of bread crumbs
Soak beans in a 4-quart bowl in 7 1⁄2 cups of water overnight. Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat or oil in a 6-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, onions and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the ham hocks, along with beans and their water, and boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours. Transfer ham hocks to a plate and cool. Pull off the meat and discard skin, bone and gristle. Chop the meat and add it to the beans. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat or oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pork and brown for 8 minutes. Add the pancetta; cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, onions and carrots; cook until lightly browned. Tie together oregano, thyme and bay leaves with twine; add to the pan with tomatoes and cook until the liquid thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and simmer about 20 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, about 1 hour. Discard the herbs and set the Dutch oven aside.
Meanwhile, sear the duck legs in 2 tablespoons of duck fat or oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Brown the sausages in the fat for about 8 minutes. Cut the sausages into 1⁄2-inch slices. Pull the duck meat off the bones and discard fat and bones. Stir the duck and sausages into the pork stew.
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Mix the beans and pork stew in a 4-quart earthenware casserole. Cover with bread crumbs and drizzle with remaining duck fat or oil. Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours. Then raise the oven temperature to 500 degrees and cook the cassoulet until the crust is golden, about 5 minutes.
Fraser notes that boneless duck meat and confit are available at many area grocers, and chopped ham may be substituted for the ham hocks. Canned beans and ground herbs can also be substituted.
Choose your favorite
"We love using different sausages but find that savory pork often works best," Fraser says. She recommends sweet or hot Italian sausage. Locally made products from Sausage Craft ( sausagecraft.com ) are available at specialty markets; Belmont Butchery (15 N. Belmont Ave., 422-8519 or belmontbutchery.com ) also offers a variety of house-made sausages.