This had to be the hardest thing I’ve made so far.
Ed had the bouquet garni so I skipped buying the parts for that. I didn’t soak the beans the day before, I bought them and the tomatoes canned. I almost had Ed convinced to let me use cooked bacon. I used my friend Gary Warburton’s Chateau Pacific Merlot – two cups – and didn’t sip while I cooked as it was 8am. We used 1/2 tsp of fennel seed instead of the “bulb”. Ed didn’t want the bread crumb topping, but I tossed the Progresso ones on the finished result anyway.
Ed laughed at me when I said the prep took an hour…like that’s a good thing. Anyway – it tasted incredible! And the wine? Ed chose a Bordeaux that didn’t stand a chance against all the strong flavors in this dish…oh well, can’t win them all.
Note from source: For best results, cook the beans one day, then assemble the cassoulet and simmer in a slow-cooker the next. If you like the flavor of Italian sausage, you should like the flavor of the added fennel, which becomes very subtle when it’s cooked. It can be omitted, however.
1 pound dried cannellini beans
18 thyme stems, divided use
1 bay leaf
6 parsley sprigs
2 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 pound smoked bacon, chopped
1 pound onions (about 2), peeled and chopped
1 bulb fennel, coarsely chopped, tops reserved (optional)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups Merlot or Zinfandel wine
5 cups defatted low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups chopped ripe tomato
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
FOR THE BREAD CRUMB TOPPING:
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Rinse beans, drain and put into a 4-quart pot with 4 quarts water. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat and cover, simmering for 30 minutes.Drain the beans.
While the beans are cooking, make a bouquet garni of 10 thyme stems, bay leaf, all the parsley and some of the fennel tops by bunching them together and wrapping tightly with kitchen twine or cotton thread.*
In a 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat, cook the sausage until the outside is brown and crisp. Reserve the sausage.
Pour the excess oil out of the pan and add the bacon, stirring until browned and almost crisp.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon drippings. Add onions, fennel and garlic to bacon, stirring often until onions begin to brown, about 7 minutes.
Add the wine, bringing to a boil over high heat, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until reduced by half.
Pour the wine mixture into slow-cooker with beans. Mix in the chicken broth,bouquet garni, tomato and pepper. Scatter the sausage on top of the beans.
Cover and cook until beans and sausage are very tender,about 8 to 10 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high. Check the level of liquid occasionally, adding more if necessary. If there is too much liquid, remove the lid, turn heat to high and simmer to concentrate. Add salt to taste.
TO PREPARE THE BREAD CRUMB TOPPING:
About15 minutes before serving, saute bread crumbs, garlic and parsley in oil over medium-high heat until browned, stirring constantly. If the topping is made ahead of time, reheat in the microwave on High (100percent power) for 20 to 30 seconds before using.
TO SERVE THE CASSOULET:
Discard the bouquet garni from the beans, spoon into bowls, sprinkle each with some of the bread crumb topping and garnish with a stem of thyme. Serve with crusty country bread and a Merlot, zinfandel or Bordeaux wine.
*IF YOU ARE MAKING THE BEANS A DAY AHEAD:
Place the garni on top of the beans, cover and refrigerate. The next day, put the beans in a slow-cooker that holds 4 quarts or more. Proceed with recipe.
Adapted from source: Christine Carbone; Dallas Morning News 01/17/2001 Recipe is here.