I would be remiss not to include a vegetarian cassoulet since it is so popular a casserole. Cassoulet is said to have originated in the 14th Century in Castelnaudary in the south of France during the Hundred Years War. During a siege, the Provost Marshall apparently made this by putting the beans, vegetables, and available meats, like Toulouse sausage, into the communal cook pot. It was so hearty it gave the French army courage face the surrounding British army. That’s tradition for ya and many a dish has its roots in military necessity.
So much debate arose over the origins of cassoulet that Prosper Montagné (one of the great French chefs of all time, achieving a secure place in gastronomic history by creating Larousse Gastronomique (1938), the basic encyclopedia of French gastronomy.) decreed in 1929 that “God the father is the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, God the Son that of Carcassonne, and the Holy Spirit that of Toulouse.”
According to French food historian Waverley Root, traditionally cassoulet would benefit from a long simmer in the pot. He quoted the French author Anatole France who claimed the cassoulet he used to eat in his favorite bistro in Paris had been cooking for 20 years, sort of something you keep adding to and a reference to its delightfully time-consuming cook time. Its a real stick to your ribs dish and can satisfy the most hungry of diners.
Julia Child and Tres Dames have a 3-day version in Mastering the Art. The cassoulet is taken so seriously that there is even an Academy of Cassoulet and a cassoulet celebration during the last week of August. Of course there is at least one restaurant under the name Maison Du Cassoulet.
Vegetarian versions may not be tolerated in the Academy, but for the burgeoning crowds of world class vegetarians and vegans, cassoulet is a natural bean-rich dish and a great crowd pleaser for a spring potluck. If you want to substitute canned beans for a fast cassoulet, use 3 (19-oz) cans cannellini or Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained (you will need less vegetable broth if you are not cooking the beans from scratch). Dried flageolet vertes and haricot Tarbais, once a specialty import, are now easily available seasonally by mail order from Amazon.com (imported) and Rancho Gordo (domestic).
This recipe is liberally adapted for the slow cooker from Gourmet Magazine, March 2008. Best made the day ahead and reheated.
Slow Cooker: Large Round or oval
Machine Setting and Cook Time: Low Heat: 8 to 10 hours or High Heat: 5 to 6 hours
- 3/4 pound cannellini, Great Northern beans, haricot Tarbais or flageolet vertes
- 3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only)
- 4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
- 3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
- 1 fennel bulb, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 parsley sprigs
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth, to cover
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For garlic crumbs
- 4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs from a baguette (grind in a food processor)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Make the cassoulet:
1. Place beans in a colander and rinse under running water; check and pick over for small stones. Place in a 5-or 6-quart cooker (there must be plenty of room for them to bubble without spilling over) and cover with cold water; soak 6 to 12 hours on the counter. Drain and leave in the crock.
2. Halve leeks lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces, then wash well and pat dry.
3. Cook leeks, carrots, celery, fennel, and garlic in oil in a saute pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened and a bit golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the ingredients to crock with the beans. Tie the thyme, parsley, and bay leaf with kitchen twine into a bundle and submerge into the beans and vegetables. Add the cloves and a few liberal grinds of black pepper. Stir in the vegetable broth and wine.
4. Cover and set to LOW to simmer away all day, 8 to 10 hours, or HIGH for 5 to 6 hours. Halfway through cooking, stir in the tomatoes. Add a bit more hot vegetable broth if the beans are too dry. Some people like their cassoulet stick-to-the-spoon-thick, others a bit soupy, and then others with a consistency in between, like a thick stew. Adjust your liquid to make the cassoulet just as you like it. Dish is ready when beans are tender.
Make garlic crumbs while cassoulet simmers:
5. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Toss the bread crumbs with oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a bowl until well coated (keep the bowl and set aside). Spread on a baking pan lined with parchment and toast in oven, stirring once halfway through, until crisp and golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool crumbs on the pan, then return to the bowl and stir in parsley.
Finish the cassoulet:
6. Discard the herb bundle. Mash some of beans in pot with a potato masher or back of a spoon to thicken broth. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with garlic crumbs either in the crock or in individual portions.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2005/2017, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.