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This luxurious form of baked beans takes a few days of gentle and trouble-free preparation, but will leave you free to entertain your guests, as it can be produced straight from the oven.
There is still fierce rivalry between towns and villages in South-West France as to which is a true cassoulet. The answer is, it doesn't exist - some villages swear that mutton must be added, others feel it's almost blasphemous. One fact is certainly true, before haricot beans and tomatoes arrived from the America's - it would have been very different - as broad beans were used.
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Ingredients for 8-10:
For the beans:
2 lbs/900gr dried White Haricot Beans, soaked overnight in cold water, then drained and rinsed
1 large Carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 big Onion, peeled and stuck with 4 Cloves
4 cloves of Garlic, peeled and left whole
1 teaspoon (5ml) Herbes de Provence – the best, containing both green anise & lavender are offered by www.gourmetherbs.co.uk
For the meat ragout:
6 jointed legs of Duck Confit (q.v.), this can be bought at good delicatessens or by Mail Order (see our section) – alternatively slowly-roasted duck legs could be used
2 tablespoons (30ml) Duck or Goose Fat (these should be in your confit – alternatively use Lard
1 Shoulder of Lamb or Mutton, cut into 1 in/2.5cm cubes and any surplus fat removed and discarded
1 lb/450mg cubed Pork, shoulder or loin is ideal (the former cheaper)
1 lb/450mg air-dried sausage, cut into big pieces. Although not authentic, we find Polish Kabanos excellent, and they hold together well.
1 x 400gr tin of chopped Tomatoes
2 big Onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped
½ pint/300ml Dry White Wine
2 pints/1.1 litres of weak Chicken Stock – made with 1 stock cube
Salt and freshly-ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon (5ml) Herbes de Provence
4 oz 120gr Fresh White Breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon (5ml) Herbes de Provence
There are three distinct processes. The beans are first soaked over-night to soften them. The beans and meats are partly cooked separately to start with. Both are then combined at the final stage.
A simple salad makes the ideal accompaniment.
1. Put the drained beans in a big saucepan with their accompanying ingredients and cover them with cold water – bring them to the boil, and simmer them for 2 hours.
2. Drain the bean, and set them aside – keeping their cooking liquid.
3. The Meat Ragout: Set the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2.
4. Heat the duck fat or lard in a deep frying pan and soften the onions and garlic over a very gentle heat for 5 minutes. Transfer these to a big casserole, using a perforated spoon, so you leave as much fat behind as possible.
5. Increase the heat to moderate, then seal the lamb and pork in batches, adding these to the casserole as you progress. When you have completed this, tip the remaining fat into the casserole.
6. Add the stock, wine, herbs and tomatoes plus a little salt and freshly-ground pepper – these can be adjusted at the end of cooking.
7. Bring this mixture to simmering point, cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours. Leave the oven on, but remove the casserole.
8. Add the drained beans and the duck and sausage pieces.
9. Mix until it’s all well combined.
10. Make sure that the liquid comes to the top of the mixture, so top-up with some bean water if necessary.
11. Return the casserole to the oven, covered, for a further hour. Remove from the oven. Check the salt and pepper levels being careful not to burn yourself – as the duck will be salty, you might not need any more salt.
• The dish can be prepared ahead of time, up to this point, and will, in fact, improve as the flavours amalgamate. If keeping overnight, make sure that the mixture is moist before re-heating (so topping-up with a little water if necessary), as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.
12. To serve:
Heat, uncovered,, in a medium oven 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 sprinkled with the fresh breadcrumbs and a scattering of the extra teaspoon of Herbes de Provence, if using (the crumbs should end up looking golden and crisp). Or microwave individually, if preferred.