It’s been well over a month since I posted this challenge to myself, and I finally bucked up to to make this somewhat complex dish. What I didn’t plan on when I first posted this was how many weekends I’d have in between that didn’t allow for this amount of cooking time (not to mention being out of town), but also that I couldn’t find a pork belly or lamb shoulder to save my life in this small town!
After numerous “cassoulet” searches online, I decided I could use pork loin and smoked sausages without spoiling too much of the classic way of cooking this dish. Which means long and slow. Long and slow, get it? Like about a four-hour chunk of my day long and slow. But oh my gosh, the flavors are amazing!
Actually, it takes two days to make this meal, as you have to start some of the prep the night before cooking. I found no part of preparing this dish particularly “hard” to make, it was just time-consuming.
Another factor was that I live in high altitude, and the instructions to “cook the beans for about 20 minutes until tender” about floored me. No-way, no-how would dry beans (even soaked overnight) would be remotely tender after 20 minutes in this high-desert climate. But like all good cooks, I read the instructions in advance and was proactive in knowing my cooking environment. I added at least an hour to my cooking time overall, and I bumped up both the liquid amounts and cooking temps.
Also, I found the amount of meat called for a bit extravagant (seeing as there are only three of us), so scaled the meat amount down. My husband even thought I could reduce the pork amount down even more next time.
Family verdict? All thumbs up! I was amazed at the depth of flavor in this dish. But heck, it’s got not only bacon, but pork and sausage. NO SALT REQUIRED, K? The three large sprigs of thyme and bay leaves added just the right amount of herb flavor without being overwhelming. I did grind some black pepper over it all even though it didn’t call for it because, well, I love pepper in almost everything! Now on to the recipe:
1 and 1/2 cups dried white beans (I used Great Northern), soaked overnight
3 slices of grain bread, torn and set to dry
4 strips streaked bacon (not lean), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 horseshoe link of beef Italian smoked sausage, sliced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 smallish leek, sliced thin and soaked in water to rinse
2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed, and sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 jar homemade tomatoes, or 1 14-ounce can, hand-crushed with liquid
2 to 2 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup Fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons melted butter
The night before making this dish, place dried beans in a bowl and cover with about an inch of cold water. Soak overnight. In addition, tear up the bread into pieces and place on a rack or in colander so that air can circulate around the bread to make it stale.
The next day, about 3 or 4 hours before serving, drain the beans and add about two inches of water over top of the beans. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium for about 45 minutes (or less in lower altitudes).
Meanwhile you can begin prepping the other ingredients. Place the stale bread in a food processor and process until coarse crumbs develop and you have 2 cups of breadcrumbs. If you have any leftover, you can reserve for another use or feed to the birds, like I did. Chop the parsley and combine with the breadcrumbs and set aside.
Next, slice the leek thin and place in a bowl of water to remove any sand/silt. Drain and set aside. Chop the onion and set aside. Then cut the pork loin into one-inch chunks, the sausage into slices, and the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.
When the beans are almost tender, you can remove from heat then drain. They will continue cooking later in the oven.
Now you can start cooking the actual dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for lower altitude). In a Dutch oven or other oven-proof dish (I used my 3-quart cast-iron deep skillet), cook the bacon on medium high until crispy, about 10 minutes then drain on paper towels. Remove all but about 1 or 2 tablespoons of bacon grease.
Next cook the pork in the same dish in batches, until browned on all sides. I eyeballed it and left too much in there for the first batch of pork (above) so adjust accordingly. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Cook the sausage in the same dish until browned, remove and drain on paper towels.
Next cook the onion, leek and garlic in the same dish, stirring often, until onions and leeks have softened and reduced by about half. Return all the meat and the beans to the pot and combine.
Now add the thyme, undrained crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken broth (only 2 cups if at lower altitude).
Season with ground black pepper, to taste. Bring up to a boil, cover, and turn off heat.
Cook covered in preheated oven for 1 hour (or 45 minutes at lower altitude). Remove from oven, uncover, and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle the melted butter over top. Place back in oven and cook uncovered for 45 minutes.
Remove from oven and let sit 15 minutes before serving. Serve with thick slices of crusty bread and a big glass of wine, because you’re going to need it after all that cooking! Bon Apetit!
p.s. (We are headed to our river property over the weekend, so I’ll post again in about a week!)
Don’t forget the handy-dandy printable PDF below!