by Kate Heyhoe
One of the most famous dishes of France is cassoulet, a rich, hearty stew of various meats, beans, fats, and aromatic vegetables and herbs, all baked in layers and topped with a fine golden crust. While hundreds of variations exist, one of the principal French culinary societies has proclaimed that a true cassoulet must consist of 30 percent pork sausage, mutton or goose, with the remaining ingredients being white haricot beans, pork rinds, stock and flavorings. The ingredients are precooked in stages, separately, then baked in layers in an earthenware pot known as a "cassole." The making of a cassoulet can take days, and the list of ingredients can easily contain over 20 items. The result, of course, is a phenomenally flavorful meal, well worth the effort if made properly.
This recipe borrows from the traditional cassoulet in feeling, but is considerably less labor intensive. It is also less rich, using far less fat than the proper versions do. It does require a few ingredients, but these are mostly the seasonings necessary to give it the depth of flavor customary to a cassoulet. Indeed, unlike the original, this cassoulet-type of stew may be prepared in a very short time, then let to simmer until done. It will fill your home with tantalizing aromas and is the ideal accompaniment to a cold winter night by the fire.
*NOTE: Polish sausage made with turkey may be used.
Rinse the beans well. Place them in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, boil for 3 minutes, then shut off the heat, cover and let the beans sit for 1 hour. Drain the beans and rinse. This may be done the day before.
Cut the lamb chops into large pieces, 1 to 1-1/2 inches in size. Do not discard the bones.
In a large flame-proof casserole or Dutch Oven, heat the oils until very hot. Brown the lamb cubes and the bones, then remove from the pan. Brown the sausages with the onion and fennel. Add the garlic to the pan towards the end, just long enough to cook through without browning.
Return the lamb and lamb bones to the pan and add the tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, herbes de Provence, nutmeg, salt, pepper, wine and chicken stock. Stir in the beans. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low, covered, 45 minutes. Uncover and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the beans are tender and the sauce thick.
Serve garnished with feathery fennel leaves (or parsley) and hearty dinner rolls.
©1994, 2007 Katherine Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
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