One of the best things about visiting France for the first time is realizing how wrong you are about so many things. They don’t hate Americans. They don’t all wear Chanel. And the don’t all smell like rotting brie cheese.
Well, some of them do, but 11 year old boys don’t like to shower in this country, either.
One of my favorite things about visiting France was realizing that not everyone eats tiny crudites, expensive champagne, and tasting menus every night. There is a whole world of rustic, hearty, rather inexpensive French food. Food that you eat with family, drinking table wine, laughing and dipping spoons into each others bowls until you rise from the table, bellies ready to burst and eyes ready to take a wonderful fat-and-carb induced slumber.
Cassoulet is such a dish. This rustic pork, duck, and bean stew is everything I don’t associate with Paris – heavy, overt in taste, somewhat clumsy in serving. And yet I love it.
Don’t leave anything out, especially duck. That is the only really expensive part this dish, but it serves such a large amount of people that it is totally worth it. Use a wine that you love to drink, so you can drink it with the meal. I used a Tarquiet Chenin-Chardonnay. This wine has the dry, crisp notes of chenin blanc blended with some buttery, yeasty flavors of chardonnay. It really stands up well to the pork without overshadowing the other flavors.
Cassoulet (adapted from Saveur)
60 oz. cannellini beans
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
10 tbsp. olive oil
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1 lb. pork shoulder
1⁄2 lb. pancetta, cubed
1 bunch thyme, tied with twine or thread
4 tbsp. dried oregano
2 bay leaves
3 cloves, tied in a cheesecloth, or 2 tsp. ground cloves
1 28 oz. can whole peeled or crushed canned tomatoes
1.5 cups white wine
4 cups chicken broth
4 confit duck legs
1 lb. ground pork
2 cups panko bread crumbs
4 tbsp. melted butter
3 tbsp. each salt and pepper, plus extra to taste
1. Put the ground pork, the pancetta, the onions, the garlic, and the carrots into a large dutch oven with the olive oil. Let it sautee and steam until the pork is totally cooked through, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 325F.
9. By now your stew should be pretty much cooked. Taste it. Does it need more salt, more spice from the cloves? Does it need more acidity from wine? Adjust it as you see fit, and have a bite of the pork to make sure that it is extremely tender. It should be so delicious that you literally start drooling immediately. If you do…
There is nothing cool or reserved about this dish. It is entirely out loud and unapologetic. Porky and sweet and tart and rich and savory. Creamy beans, tender pork, crisped bits of pancetta. Juicy tomatoes, the gentle spice of cloves, and the crispy, butter breadcrumbs.
Or, just plan to finish off the cassoulet instead of dessert.
Eating like Paul Bunyon – betcha didn’t know France had it in her.
*The wine was provided to me as a sample. I was not required to use or write about it, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*