A Recipe of Compromise

Searching for the perfect cassoulet prompts thoughts of the election and a recipe reinvention. 

by Karin Duncker • More.com Member { View Profile }

The bones of this recipe started with one I found in Saveur magazine. I then started to play around with it, incorporating the slow cooker for a way to cook the beans without having to remember to soak them the night before (which I always seem to forget.) I then played around with the amounts of meat and duck fat to trim the calories a bit. Traditional cassoulet has almost 1,000 calories per serving, which was fine if you happen to be a farmer toiling in the fields all day. By reducing the amount of duck fat by half, not including the confit duck (though wonderful and I love it, it’s expensive and not the easiest to find in many places), substituting garlic turkey sausage for pork ones, and reducing the pancetta a bit in the bean prep, I was able to reduce the calories to about 600 per serving. Still a hearty dish, but certainly something you could get away with without having to plow the back forty to work it off.

·      ¾ lb flageolet, great northern or navy beans  (you want smaller beans than cannelli beans)

·      4-5 TBSP duck fat, or if you can’t find rendered duck fat, olive oil

·      1 head of garlic

·      2 leeks, chopped

·      2 carrots, chopped

·      ¾ lb pork shoulder, cut into 1” cubes

·      4 ounces pancetta (in one piece)

·      Bouquet garni = 2 sage leaves, 3 bay leaves, 4 sprigs thyme, 4 sprigs parsley

·      1 14oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

·      1 cup white wine

·      2 ½ cups chicken broth

·      1 lb garlic turkey sausage

·      1 ½ -2 cups breadcrumbs

Rinse the beans and put into the slow cooker*(see adaptation if you don’t have a slow cooker at bottom of recipe.) Cut the head of garlic in half, keep the top half in one piece and peel and smash the cloves in the bottom half – you’ll be using them later. Melt 1 TBSP duck fat in 4-6 quart dutch oven or large deep saucepan (that can go in the oven).  Sauté the half the leeks, half the carrots, the half head of garlic and a good pinch of salt over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until soft and lightly golden. Cut about a ¾” piece off the pancetta (1 ounce) and add to the beans. Add the sautéed vegetables to the slow cooker and enough water to cover the beans by about 2 inches. Cook on high setting for about 3-4 hours (start checking the beans at the 2 ½ hour mark – the beans should be tender but not mushy.) Once the beans are done, squeeze the garlic cloves out of the skins into the beans. Set the beans aside. (You actually could do this a day ahead and refrigerate if you wanted to, but my goal was a 1-day dish.)

Heat 1 TBSP duck fat (or olive oil) in the pot you used to sauté the vegetable for the beans. Salt and pepper the pork shoulder cubes and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook another 5 minutes until browned. Add the smashed garlic cloves to the pot, along with the remaining chopped carrot and leek. If you haven’t already, tie together the herbs for the bouquet garni (see ingredient list) and add to the pan with the can of tomatoes and their juices. Cook until liquid thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Add wine and reduce by half. Add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to medium low, and simmer uncovered until liquid has thickened, about an hour.

Heat oven to 300ºF. Add the beans and their liquid to the pot with the meat and mix well. Remove the bouquet garni. Cover the pot with the breadcrumbs. Heat the remaining 2 TBSP duck fat and drizzle over the breadcrumbs. Bake for 2 ½ - 3 hours, or until the breadcrumbs are browned and form a crust, and the stew is bubbling on the sides. Calories: Approximately 600 per serving.

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