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Cassoulet With Lots Of Vegetables

Cassoulet With Lots Of Vegetables
Mark Bittman for NPR /

Cassoulet is one of the best of the myriad of traditional European dishes that combine beans and meat to produce wonderfully rich, robust stews. This recipe maintains that spirit but is much faster, easier, less expensive and more contemporary, emphasizing the beans and vegetables over the meat. (That probably makes it more, not less, traditional, since meat was always hard to come by before the mid-20th century.) The main recipe starts with already cooked beans or canned beans and is ready relatively fast. To begin with dried beans, see the variation; it takes more time, but the results are even better.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage, bone-in pork chops, confit duck legs or duck breasts, or a combination

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 leeks or onions, trimmed, washed and sliced

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths

3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium zucchini or 1 small head green cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 cups chopped tomatoes, with their juice (canned are fine)

1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley leaves

1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

4 cups cooked white beans (canned are fine), drained and liquid reserved

2 cups stock, dry red wine, bean cooking liquid or water, plus more as needed

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the meat and cook, turning as needed, until the meat is deeply browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.

Turn the heat to medium and add the garlic, leeks or onions, carrots, celery and zucchini or cabbage. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their liquid, the reserved meat and the herbs and bring to a boil. Add the beans; bring to a boil again, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles gently but continuously. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding the liquid when the mixture gets thick and the vegetables are melting away.

Fish out the meat and remove the bones and skin as needed. Chop meat into chunks and return to the pot along with the cayenne. Cook another minute or two to warm through, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.

Slow-Cooked Cassoulet: Start with dried beans. After browning the meat, leave it in the pan and add 1/2 pound dry white beans that have been soaked. (Put the beans in a large pot with a tightly fitting lid and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Bring the pot to a boil and let boil, uncovered, about 2 minutes. Cover the pot and turn the heat off. Let the beans soak at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours.) Add enough water or stock to just cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Meanwhile, in a separate pan with another 2 tablespoons of olive oil, cook the vegetables as directed. Add them to the pot of beans along with the tomatoes and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle bubble and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, adding more liquid as necessary to keep them moist. This will take anywhere from another 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the age of your dried beans.

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