As with all such peasant dishes, there are as many recipes as there are cooks. This recipe is very much in the traditional mode. I did make duck confit (a three-day affair) specifically for the cassoulet, but I also wanted some to make duck rillettes for Christmas dinner, so I would have made the confit anyway. With the exception of the ribs, I already had all the ingredients on hand. The bottom of the clay casserole that's traditionally used is often lined with pork rind, but I elected to add some chunks of pancetta to the bean cooking liquid because I had it.
Makes 8 servings
1 pound dried cannellini beans (great Northern beans or navy beans may be used)
1 celery stalk, broken in half
1 carrot, unpeeled, broken in half
2 large yellow onions, 1 peeled and cut in half, the other peeled and diced
4 ounces pancetta
10 to 12 sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle
2 bay leaves
2 quarts duck stock (or chicken stock)
2 tablespoons salt
2 country-style pork ribs (about 12 ounces)
5 tablespoons duck fat (or olive oil)
2 links (1/2 pound) lamb garlic sausage or any other fresh link sausage
4 tablespoons minced garlic, separated
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 duck legs confit (about 12 ounces with bone in), you can use fresh duck or chicken if confit isn't available
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup bread crumbs
Pick over beans and add to a large pot along with carrot, celery, the onion cut in half, pancetta, thyme and bay leaves. Add stock and bring just to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Top up liquid with water as needed to keep all ingredients covered.
Cool beans then pick out vegetables and herbs and discard. Remove pancetta, dice roughly and return to pot.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 225 degrees.
Season pork ribs with salt and pepper and brown on all sides in a tablespoon of duck fat in a cast-iron skillet. Cover skillet with aluminum foil, place in oven and cook until the beans are done — about 3 hours. Allow to cool.
Place sausages and 2 tablespoons of duck fat in a skillet with 1/2 inch of water. Simmer for 4 minutes, turn sausage over, and simmer until all water is gone. Brown sausages and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of duck fat (if needed) to sausage skillet and add diced onions. Saute over medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring as needed to prevent burning. Stir in 3 tablespoons minced garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Mix onions into beans along with diced tomatoes and their juice.
Add last tablespoon of duck fat to skillet and toss in breadcrumbs and remaining tablespoon of minced garlic. Cook until lightly browned. Reserve.
If you're using fresh duck or chicken, season it generously with salt and pepper and brown it in the skillet with a tablespoon of oil or fat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all the ingredients except breadcrumbs in a deep casserole or Dutch oven, but make sure beans cover all the meat to keep it from drying out. You may need to add a bit of liquid, just enough to bring the level slightly below the top. Water works, but so does either red or white wine, and wine adds more flavor. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs to form a crust.
Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour. Remove from oven, cool and refrigerate overnight. If you want to eat it the same day, cook it an hour longer, but it's much better on the second day.
The next day, preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Remove meat from bones and slice sausage into rounds then stir back in along with the crust. Cook for 1 hour and serve.
I like a red wine with this dish, but white is fine. A green salad with vinaigrette is the perfect side dish.