Friday, November 13, 2009

Neighbor Favors, Part Two

Probably the most talented home cook I know is my brother's wife, Ann, who has been known to make Julia Child's cassoulet from scratch, including making her own sausage to start. Imagine! When I received a gift of duck legs from my neighbor Theresa, I thought briefly about making that hallowed recipe but once I started reading it, I changed my mind. Even retired, I don't have that kind of time and with three kinds of meat needing immediate preparation, I really didn't have that kind of time.

Instead, I did what I usually do - I improvised. I read a number of online recipes as well as Mrs. Child's and came up with a version that incorporates, I hope, most of the wonders of this plain and hearty dish with a bit less of the fuss. I didn't have confit duck legs, so it wasn't the same, but I like to think it's still pretty good.

Impromptu Cassoulet

2 links of spicy Italian sausage (or bulk spicy sausage)
2 duck legs, cut into four pieces each (I used a big, heavy knife to chop through the bones)
1 cup small dry white beans, such as Navy beans
1 quart beef broth
1 bouquet garni* including 1 bay leaf (1/2 if it's a California bay leaf), 2 sprigs fresh thyme, a small bunch of fresh flat leafed parsley, 5 or so whole peppercorns, 2 sprigs of celery leaves)
olive oil
2 carrots, cut in 1" chunks
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Quick-soak beans by covering them in with water by about 1" and bringing them to a boil. Off the heat, let them sit for about an hour. (You can also soak them without boiling overnight or for at least 8 hours if you have lots of time).

While the beans are soaking, squeeze dollops of the Italian sausage out of the casings and into a preheated, oiled pan. Brown the sausage, then set aside. In the same pan, brown the duck legs thoroughly and remove the skin (you can make cracklings from the skin if you slowly fry it in a separate pan and I have heard that the rendered duck fat from this process is heaven to cook with, although I haven't tried it myself as yet). Set aside. Pour out most of the fat from the pan, then add the carrots and onion and cook until soft, deglaze with a little of the beef broth so you get all the goodies.

After the hour of soaking, drain the water from the beans and replace it with the beef broth; if you don't have enough broth, add some water - you want the liquid to cover the beans. Add the bouquet garni to the beans and gently boil until the beans are tender, about an extra 45 minutes-1 hour. Remove the bouquet garni and discard.

Assemble the dish by pouring the beans into a shallow, ovenproof casserole dish and mixing them with the onions, carrots and deglazing liquid. Nestle the meats in amongst the beans, making sure they are covered with liquid. If they aren't, add a little water or broth. Bake, covered, in a 350 degree oven for an hour or two - until the scents tell you that all is one in the universe. The duck will be falling off the bones and the liquid will have turned to savory sauce. You can mash some of the beans against the side of the casserole and mix them in to thicken the sauce if it seems too watery.

I like to serve this with lightly buttered garlic toasts, slices of baguette that have been toasted and rubbed with garlic. You can make a garlic crumb topping if you prefer. Add a little olive oil to a skillet and cook a clove or two of minced garlic until fragrant, just about a minute. Add 1-2 cups bread crumbs (fresh) and continuing cooking and stirring until the crumbs are crisp and golden, a few minutes more. Top the casserole with these crumbs, or serve them alongside in a bowl for sprinkling over each serving.

This is such a hearty meal that you won't need more than a green salad to finish the plate.

*A bouquet garni is a French term for a little "teabag" of herbs and flavorings made with a square of cheesecloth and tied with cotton string. Make the string extra long on one end so you can tie in to the handle of the pot for easy retrieval. You could just put all these seasonings loose in the pot but then they are the devil to fish out later.

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Blogger namastenancy said...

Back when I was married, I made cassoulet for a family get together. I didn't make the sausages but I did just about everything else -- and decided that I really didn't like it. The food was too heavy for my tastes. My ex-s extended family scarfed it all down so I didn't need to worry about left overs but I learned a lesson about the kinds of foods that I really like. Now, if I were out doing heavy labor in cold weather, that kind of heavy, starchy did would appeal but heaviest work that I do is lifting my art work from the bus and taking it up the stairs at the studio. That's not enough to justify a meal of beans, meat and bread. Your compromise sounds simply divine. It's too bad that you live on such a steep hill. Otherwise, I'd pitch my tent and see if some of the bounty would trickle down my way.

Friday, November 13, 2009  
Blogger dancingmorganmouse said...

One of my all time favourite meals (I add big chunky cuts of speck too) mmmmmmm m.

Friday, November 13, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Nancy, you're right, it is food for laborers but we count walking the dog twice a day over our steep hills as labor. :-)

Morgan, I was thinking of doing different meats some time, so you have given me inspiration. Hope you're having a better day today.

Saturday, November 14, 2009  
Blogger dancingmorganmouse said...

I'm just fine and dandy, thanks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Morgan, oh, good, glad to hear it!

Sunday, November 15, 2009  

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