Cassoulets (casseroles for us American folk) are a great, hearty and 'cheap' way to feed a family -- well, cheap if you make your cassoulet with leftovers. If you're buying all the ingredients, it's a tad more pricey -- but it's still a delicious, not too expensive way to feed a crowd. And a crowd is what we had Christmas Eve.
As y'all know from reading my blog, Julia Child has infused herself into our cooking (eating for me) lives, so this year Richard thought he'd do "Julia" (translation: French) for our party and decided to make a French peasant Christmas cassouslet. According to Julia, no two cassouslets are the same and that adds to their 'intrigue' not to mention they get better w/ age. In fact, in these days of sub-zero freezers (or just any ole freezer), a cassoulet can be made a couple of months in advance and frozen. Richard hadn't decided on making a cassoulet that far in advance, but he did start making it three days before the party. Here is the French Christmas Cassoulet recipe he followed:
2 pounds dry great northern beans
16 cups cold watter
12 cups cold water
2 medium onions, skin removed
8 whole cloves
16 cloves garlic, minced
8 large stalks of celery, with leaves
12 sprig of parsley
2 teaspoons salt
4 bay leaves
4 pounds of beef spare ribs
1 pound cooked pork (3 cups)
1 pound cooked lamb (3 cups)
2 pounds cooked goose, pheasant or chicken (6 cups) (one 10 pound goose, roasted - Richard
roasted a couple of 5 pound chickens)
2 pounds pork sausage (Richard used turkey sausage)
6 medium onions, chopped
2- 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups meat gravy
2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups soft breadcrumbs
1/4 cup cooking oil
Rinse beans and divide between two 4-quart oven-safe Dutch ovens. Cover w/ 8 cups cold water each and soak overnight in refrigerator (or bring beans to boiling; reduce heat, simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for one-hour) Drain and rinse beans. In the same pots, add 6 cups water to each. Stud each whole onion w/ four of the cloves. Add each onion along w/ 2 cloves of the minced garlic, 4 stalks of celery, 6 sprigs of parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and two bay leaves to each pot of beans. Add ribs to each. Bring mixture to boiling. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer the beans for 35 minutes (beans will be firm, yet tender).
Drain the beans and reserve the liquid. Discard celery, onion, and bay leaves. Remove any meat from rib bones and set aside. Meanwhile, cut pork, lamb, and goose (roast chicken) into bite-size pieces. Cut sausage into 1-inch pieces (or roll bulk sausage into 1-inch balls) and divide between the two Dutch ovens. Cook over medium heat till browned on all sides. Remove sausage, drain, reserving drippings and set aside.
In each Dutch oven, cook 3 chopped onions in reserved drippings till tender. Add 1 can tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 cup reserved bean liquid, 1 cup gravy, 6 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon basil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to each Dutch oven. Bring mixture to boiling. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Divide beans and all the meats between Dutch ovens. Stir and combine well.
Serve w/ crusty bread.
Makes 24 servings.
Variations: Above is the recipe as given, but remember, "no two cassoulets are alike" so... because several of our friends don't eat pork, no pig was harmed in the making of this cassoulet. Nor was any lamb, because Richard didn't find any of that either. He replaced the one pound each of pork and lamb with more chicken and beef ribs. His only worry was the amount of liquid fat to flavor the beans, since he was using turkey sausages, but he dropped in a few tablespoons of olive oil after sauteeing the sausages. It seemed to work. There wasn't a bite left at the end of the night!