I know, it’s not much to look at. And with everything (finally!) turning green, I imagine you’re in the mood for something a little more fresh-from-the-ground. But if I wait until it gets really hot no one will want to turn the oven on, and if I set this aside for the fall, I’ll forget. And I don’t want to forget this.
It’s dark and rich and sticky and intense… and lengthier than my usual, I realize – but far shorter than the average cassoulet. You won’t have to wrangle an entire duck or roast a whole pig or cook three separate dishes, then combine them in an 18 quart pot and bake them together for seventeen hours to get where you’re going.
So yes, I realize it’s not really a traditional cassoulet; it’s more a long-simmered lamb and bean casserole, which has nowhere near as much panache. (What’s in a name? A lot, I think.)
If rain is in your forecast, this is a really great-smelling way to warm up the house. Even if you’re just cooking for one – why not make yourself a pot of cassoulet? It’s the sort of dish that gets better with a day or two to linger in the fridge – perfect to have on standby for dinner or to take to work for lunch. Even if your office is in the spare bedroom.
2 cups dry white beans, such as navy or cannellini
olive or canola oil, for cooking
2 large lamb shanks
salt and pepper, to taste
8 slices bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
1-2 cups dry red wine or tomato juice
2-3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup tomato sauce or puree
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
1/2 lb. lamb or pork sausage
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. melted butter
Preheat the oven to 325F. Cover the beans with plenty of water and let them soak for several hours, or overnight; alternatively, bring the beans and water to a boil, then remove from the heat and let sit for 2 hours.
Set a large ovenproof casserole over medium-high heat and add a generous drizzle of oil. Cut most of the meat off the shanks and cut it into 1-inch chunks and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Brown it in batches in the pan and set aside. Add the bacon and cook until the fat starts to cook off; add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes, until soft and starting to brown.
Return the meat to the pot, add the wine, stock, tomato puree and a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, cover and cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender.
Meanwhile, cover the beans with water, add a garlic clove and a few sprigs of herbs and simmer for 45 minutes or so, until tender. Whenever they’re done, drain them well and pull out the garlic and herbs, then pull the lamb pot from the oven and stir them in. (About halfway through the lamb cooking time.) If you like, cool it down and refrigerate overnight.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the lamb sausage (squeeze it out of its casing if you need to), breaking the meat up with a spoon until the meat is no longer pink and is starting to get crispy. When the lamb is done, pull out the bones and give it a stir, then spread the crispy lamb sausage over top. Turn the oven up to 375F.
Toss together the breadcrumbs and butter – or pulse torn up bread with the butter in a food processor until well blitzed and blended – and sprinkle overtop. Bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on whether it’s coming from the fridge or starting hot), until bubbly and crispy on top. Serves about 8.