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Eat this! Cassoulet, a hearty winter casserole from Southwestern France

Le Titi de Paris’s cassoulet

Le Titi de Paris’ cassoulet

What it is: Cassoulet is an earthy, peasant dish from southwestern France, traditionally a casserole of beans, pork, poultry and herbs, slowly baked until a dark crust forms. Recipes vary throughout the region, though, so that in 1929, Chef Prosper Montagné declared, “God the Father is the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, God the Son that of Carcassonne, and the Holy Spirit that of Toulouse.”

While in France l’Académie Universelle du Cassoulet religiously guards the recipes for les cassoulets à l’anciennes, in modern parlance, especially in heretical America, “cassoulet” is apt to apply to any hearty preparation involving beans. State and Lake restaurant in the Loop, for example, serves a salmon cassoulet.

Where it comes from: Named for the cassole, a distinctive, round earthenware pot with deep, slanting sides in which cassoulet is traditionally cooked, the dish originated in the Languedoc region at least as far back as the 14th century. Legend has it that during the Hundred Years’ War, the rib-sticking dish so strengthened the defenders of the town of Castelnaudary that they beat back a siege and sent their British invaders running.

What to do with it: Cassoulet is hearty winter fare, best served simply, perhaps with a salad and crusty bread.

Le Titi de Paris’ classic cassoulet
Chef Michael Maddox

Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights serves this traditional version of cassoulet during the winter months. Upcoming dates include: today through Jan. 15, and Feb. 2–5, 7 and 9–12.

Michael Maddox

Michael Maddox

4 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
1 pound fully cooked smoked sausages (such as kielbasa), cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick rounds
1 pound game sausage, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick rounds
2 medium onions
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 cup brandy
3 15-ounce cans great northern beans, drained
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
4 pieces duck confit
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups coarse fresh breadcrumbs made from French bread
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the bacon in a heavy, large, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a bowl. Add the sausages to the drippings; saute until brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bacon.

Pour off all but 1/4 cup of the drippings. Add the onions and garlic and saute until beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in the rosemary, thyme and crushed red pepper. Add the brandy and simmer until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the beans, tomatoes with juices, broth and tomato paste. Add the bacon, sausages and duck. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.

Cover the pot and transfer to the preheated oven; bake 30 minutes. (The dish can be prepared up to this point up to two days ahead. Uncover; let cool 1 hour. Refrigerate uncovered until cold; then cover and keep refrigerated. Before continuing, rewarm the covered cassoulet in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes, adding more broth if dry.)

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Heat the oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and saute until light golden, about 4 minutes.

Transfer to a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the warm cassoulet. Bake until breadcrumb topping is deep golden, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cassoulet with parsley and serve. 8 to 10 servings.
State and Lake’s salmon cassoulet
Chef Bradley Manchester

Bradley Manchester

Bradley Manchester

1 cup dried white beans
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon saffron

Tomato sauce:
1 cup pureed tomatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 7-ounce salmon fillets
1 cup Italian sausage, cooked

Make the beans: Combine all ingredients and simmer over medium heat until the beans are cooked through, about 1 hour. Drain off any extra liquid and set beans aside.

Make the tomato sauce: Heat the tomato puree over low heat. Wisk in the butter.

To serve: Grill the salmon 10 minutes per inch of thickness or until desired doneness. Combine the sausage and beans and heat through. Mound the bean and sausage mixture in the center of a plate and top with salmon. Drizzle the tomato sauce around the fish. Serve immediately. 4 servings.
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