My Easy Cassoulet is a pared down version of the classic French dish and it’s perfect for laid back holiday entertaining.
Holiday entertaining isn’t all about glitz and glam, at least not in our house — I love it when friends and family come in from the cold to gather around a simple comforting meal, let’s call it festive casual. No invitations, no place cards…just an big pot of something fabulous like this Easy Cassoulet plopped down where everyone can help themselves. But serving classic comfort food to guests can be a little tricky. We love the welcoming, homey quality that makes it so universally appealing, but comfort food can be be, well, dowdy. My simplified cassoulet solves that problem. I’ve pared down a complex and time consuming traditional dish to a more manageable form, while keeping what makes it special — those distinctive country French flavors. It’s the kind of dish that rallies people round and makes everybody feel warm and cozy. Put on your Ugg boots and your best yoga pants and come on over.
This dish can actually be made from start to finish in about an hour. But it really gets better with time, so you can feel good about making it ahead. I have a few secrets for making homey stews like this one a little more presentable for party time. I like to cook it in a large pot on the stove, but I will transfer it to a casserole dish or a rustic skillet for serving. That allows me to re-arrange everything for a prettier presentation. A scattering of fresh herbs, in this case thyme, is essential to brighten up the cassoulet. And I always make sure to have a few vividly colored ingredients, like my carrots, front and center.
Cassoulet is a country French dish that features sausage, duck, sometimes pork, and white beans. It’s really a peasant style meal that has grown more complicated over time. My dish is a nod to its simpler roots. I use Italian pork sausage, either hot or mild, and chicken, along with onion, shallot, garlic, fennel, and carrots. Then there’s lots of white beans (canned for ease) and fresh thyme. The sauce is made with chicken stock and tomatoes. I use Swanson® stock because it’s the best substitute for homemade I’ve found. It forms the backbone of this dish, so it’s essential to use top quality. Swanson® Chicken Stock is the perfect cooking base for the cassoulet because its rich and savory roasted chicken flavor blends well with, and brings out the best in, the other ingredients.
I’ve taken a few liberties with tradition and introduced some Moroccan inspired elements to this dish. A touch of harissa, which is a spicy red pepper paste, lends a bit hint of heat to the mix. And a pinch of cinnamon and allspice gives the sauce a beautiful depth. In fact the sauce is so good it’s essential that you serve some sort of crusty bread alongside the cassoulet so not one drop of it will go to waste.
- 4-5 sweet Italian sausages
- 4 chicken thighs, or a mix of thighs and legs
- olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 small head of fennel, diced
- 1/2 cup dry vermouth or other white wine
- 1 heaping cup crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 32-ounce carton of Swanson® Chicken Stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large bunch fresh thyme, tied with twine, plus more for garnish
- salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp harissa
- 1/8 tsp allspice
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- a small bunch, maybe 8 or so, baby carrots, trimmed and peeled, but left whole
- 2 14-ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
- a splash of sherry vinegar
- Heat a grilll pan over medium high heat until quite hot. Prick the sausages all over with the sharp point of a small knife. Brush them will olive oil and place them on the grill. Brown on all sides and set aside. Do the same with the chicken pieces.
- Heat a large Dutch oven or heavy stew pot and coat the bottom with olive oil. Saute the onions, shallot, fennel, and whole garlic cloves for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until softened.
- Add the vermouth to the pot and let it cook down for a couple of minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and stock, bay leaves, thyme, harissa, and spices, stir well and bring to a simmer. Let the sauce cook uncovered for about 10 minutes to reduce a bit.
- Add the sausage and chicken back into the pot, and nestle down into the sauce. Cover and let simmer on low for about 20 minutes.
- Add the white beans and the baby carrots at the very end of the cooking, just so the carrots barely cook through.
- Add the sherry vinegar and taste to adjust any of the seasonings. Remove the bay leaves and the thyme bundle. Cut each of the sausages in half.
- Garnish the cassoulet with fresh thyme leaves. Serve hot with crusty bread.
- Browning the sausages and the chicken not only develops flavor, but also adds color, which helps make an appealing dish.
- I was conservative with the amount on the spices, go for a little more if you like.
- Even though this cassoulet is fairly quick cooking, there are a few elements I hold out until the end because I don’t want them to get mushy. I add the beans and the carrots at the very end of the cooking. The beans will retain their shape and bright white color that way, and the carrots will cook just enough to be tender but firm.
- If you make this ahead, the sauce may thicken after it has been refrigerated, just add more Swanson® stock as you reheat it.
*This post is in association with Swanson®.
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