Every culture has a dish which seems to translate to "we threw some leftovers together." In the US, it's often chili (or the dreaded "casserole"). In Italy, it's panzanella. In France, it's the dish known as cassoulet. Cassoulet is composed of beans and a menagerie of meat, slowly simmered in water and fat until the beans are tender and infused with meat flavor. Escoffier calls for pork rind, pork belly, and garlic sausage. The full Toulouse treatment calls for garlic pork sausage, pork rind, duck confit, mutton, and/or partridge. Oh, and it's got breadcrumbs on top. You get the idea. Leftovers. However, at its essence, it's a story about beans, slow cooked in broth and fat, with a bunch of thyme and some meat. The kind of dish you want to come home to on a cold winter's night. This is a heavily stripped down version of the real deal (which I also love), but this one takes about 5 minutes in the morning, and is amazing when you get home. The kombu is there to add an extra kick of glutamates, and the baking soda makes the skin of the beans more permeable, so they get more tender and soak up more flavor, without disintegrating.
Time: 5 minutes of prep, 8 hours cook time, 5-10 minutes of finishing touches.
Planning Ahead: Start it in the morning
The Funny Stuff: Flageolet beans, kombu, duck fat (optional), chicken confit (optional, but highly recommended)
Virtues: Easy, high in fiber
Downsides: High fat
Calories: 324 (not counting the confit)
1 cup flageolet beans (or large white beans)
1 1/2 Tbsp chicken soup base
About 5-10 sprigs of thyme
2 chunks of kombu, about 2"x4" each
a pinch of baking soda
1/4 cup duck fat or olive oil
6 cups water
1 smoked brat, or other neutral flavorful sausage (garlic is traditional, Polish is pretty good, andouille is a bad idea. I checked.)
2 chunks of chicken or duck confit
Put the beans, soup base, thyme, kombu, and baking soda in a crockpot.
I do literally mean a pinch of baking soda.
Add the duck fat and water. You can either add the sausage now, or at the end. If you add it now, it will permeate the beans, but the sausage itself will be bland at the end.
Set the crockpot for low, and let it cook for 8 hours.
If the beans are still a bit soupy, reduce some of the cooking liquid, by transferring it to a pot and boiling it on the stove for a few minutes. If you didn't add the sausage at the beginning, heat it up (30 seconds in the microwave will do) and chop it in. If you're having it with confit, heat that up as well, and place it on top. We had this with baguette and green salad, and the baby got minced sausage and beans and a vegetable.
Photo credits to Aaron Wood and Aleatha Parker-Wood.