Isn't she cute? She's making garlic crumbs! Oh yes, delicious garlicky bread crumbs [Aside: I like how the word garlic gets a "k" when you turn it into an adjective.] And here we are waiting patiently for the deliciousness to come out of the oven:
But what deliciousness? A tasty, beany, sausagey, garlicky (!) cassoulet, which I adapted from four or five different cassoulet recipes I found on the interwebs. Traditionally cassoulet has duck breast AND sausage with the beans and vegetables, but just the sausage was puh-lenty of meat for me. Here's the basic process:
Cook the beans (do this the day before if you can, it'll save you HOURS, skip it if you're using canned).
Cook the bacon until fat is rendered thoroughly, remove from pot.
Cook the sausage in the bacon fat until browned, remove from pot.
Cook the vegetables in the remaining fat.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and beans, stir.
Crumble bacon, slice sausage, add to pot, simmer.
Add HALF the breadcrumbs, bake 10 minutes.
Squash breadcrumbs into the stew, sacrificing them to sogginess.
Top with the rest of the breadcrumbs. Bake 10 minutes, broil until browned.
Ok, so that summary didn't turn out quite as succinct as I thought, but you get the idea. The best part about this is that it's just one pot which makes clean up pretty straightforward. If you've got a stock of delicious dried beans, they really shine here - I used Rancho Gordo runner cannellinis which are just HUGE and delicious. And you definitely want to use fresh bread crumbs rather than boxed. Just save stale bread in the freezer and when you have a bag full, zip it through a food processor. The crumbs will keep fine in the freezer too, and I think coarse crumbs are important here.
1 lb hot Italian sausage links (use sweet sausage if you don't like spicy food)
2 strips bacon (optional)
3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces, washed and dried (use a salad spinner)
4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
4 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
4 1/2 cups cooked dried beans (or 3 cans cannellini or Great Northern
beans, rinsed and drained)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice3 tablespoons tomato paste1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
salt & pepper
For crumb top:
4 cups fresh bread crumbs
1-3 cloves garlic, chopped (or to taste)
small handful parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
In a medium dutch oven (I think mine is in the 4-6 quart range), cook the bacon to desired crispiness to render out the fat. Remove and set aside, leaving fat in the pan. If you don't want to use bacon, just heat a little olive oil on medium - add the sausage (still in casing) and brown on all sides over medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the leeks, carrots, garlic and celery to the fat remaining in the pan, stir to coat. Add 1/2 a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and add the herb sprigs. Sauté until vegetables are becoming tender, 10-15 minutes. Stir in beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and stock, and simmer, partially covered, about 20 minutes (make sure the carrots are tender).
Combine the crumbs, chopped garlic, chopped parsley and olive oil in a bowl and stir to coat crumbs.
Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the sausage links on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices. Add the bacon and sausage back into the stew and simmer another 5-10 minutes until the sausage is heated through. Add 1/3 to 1/2 the crumb mixture to the top of the stew, bake for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven and use a spatula to squish the crumbs into the stew - this creates a soggy layer of crumbs on which to build your crispy top. Add the rest of the bread crumbs, and bake for another 10-15 minutes, uncovered until the crumbs are golden brown. If not browned to your liking, switch on the broiler for a couple of minutes, but stand near the stove and watch it carefully - you don't want your cassoulet spoiled by a burnt top!
Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 4-6, or 8 if you like small servings.