By Wednesday last week everyone in our small New England town was talking about the big storm! The first I heard of it was at my ophthalmologist’s office where the nurses were all abuzz about the weekend weather forecast. I didn’t pay much attention since predictions here are so often incorrect, but as the day went on, and one television weather reporter after another promised that the upcoming event was going to be historic, I got nervous. Like most of Amherst it seems, I trekked to the market to stock up on food.
On the way there, I decided that I’d try a new recipe—a short version of cassoulet, that classic casserole of beans, sausages, meats, and poultry celebrated in southwestern France. Typically, cassoulet takes several days to make. The beans are prepared at one session, the duck, meats, and sausages at others. I had a recipe, however, for a quick version that my friend, Jacques Ableman, had shared with me when I was in Amsterdam recently.
He explained that he buys good smoked sausages and slab bacon and quickly slices and sautés them, along with “confit de canard”(cooked duck). He uses canned beans, but enhances them with sautéed carrots and onions, canned tomatoes, and plenty of rosemary and fennel seeds. Then he cooks this hearty mélange in white wine. I adapted his version by replacing the cooked duck (unavailable in my grocery) with meaty chicken thighs, and by including some chicken stock along with the wine. Et voilà—a mouth-watering cassoulet that takes a little more than an hour and a half to prep and bake!
We ate this delectable dish throughout the weekend as we gazed at the mounds of snow collecting outside! Our weather forecasters are once again dangling the possibility of a weekend snowfall! Cassoulet, anyone?
12 oz smoked kielbasa, halved lengthwise, then cut into 2-in lengths (see note)
4 oz slab smoked bacon, cut into strips 1/4-in thick x 1 1/2-in long x 1/2-in wide or 4 oz thick-sliced bacon cut into 1-in pieces
6 chicken thighs, bone in, about 5 oz each (1 3/4 lb total)
2 cups halved and thinly sliced onions
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Four 15-oz cannellini beans, rinsed and drained well
One 15-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp crushed rosemary
1 1/2 tsp crushed fennel seeds (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
6 slices good peasant bread, cut 1/2-in-thick, lightly toasted
Fresh rosemary for garnish, optional
1. Arrange a rack at center position, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Have ready a 9-by-13-in or a shallow 3-qt baking dish.
2. Heat one tbsp olive oil in a large heavy frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the kielbasa and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. Leave drippings in the pan and then add the bacon; sauté until slightly crisp and golden brown, for about 4-5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels.
3. Pour off all but 3 tbsp of the drippings from the pan. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Return the pan to medium heat, and add the thighs. Sauté until browned well, for 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.
4. Pour off all but 2 tbsp of the drippings in the pan, and place over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, for 5 minutes or longer.
5. Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, rosemary and fennel seeds. Season the mixture with 1 1/4 tsp salt and 3/4 tsp pepper, then stir in the stock and wine. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.
6. Scatter the sausage and bacon evenly in the bottom of the casserole, then nestle the chicken thighs in the dish. Ladle the bean mixture and juices over the meats in the casserole. (The casserole can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes to 1 hour before continuing.)
7. Place in the oven and bake, uncovered, until the chicken thighs are tender when pricked with a sharp knife and most (but not all) of the liquids have evaporated, for 45 minutes or longer.
8. Remove the cassoulet from the oven and serve with slices of toasted peasant bread. If you like, garnish the center of the dish with a few rosemary sprigs
Note: Lighter turkey kielbasa will work fine in this recipe.
Note: To crush fennel seeds, use an electric spice meal or a mortar and pestle, or place in a self-sealing plastic bag and pound with a rolling pin.
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