Great Northern beans (Recipe: easy cassoulet)
Please welcome Stephanie as guest blogger on The Perfect Pantry. A Toronto-based writer and author of The 30-Second Commute, she spends much of her time writing about food and restaurants. When she’s not writing, she’s eating, cooking, shopping for intriguing ingredients, giving talks and workshops about food, wine and restaurants, and running food book clubs.
Guest post and photos by Stephanie, in Toronto
Phil Matthewson is a one-man organic market. Every Saturday (or Sunday, if it’s bad weather or his truck has broken down), he sets up tables outside a little church on a little street just off one of the busiest tourist and trendy shopping areas, the Entertainment District of Queen West in Toronto.
Most people don’t know about him, but there are a bunch of us devotees who show up throughout the day and pick through his fresh produce, fish, dairy, homemade baked goods and preserves, and bins and bins of dried organic beans and grains. What I love is that each week he has different stuff depending upon the season and what he’s made. Buying from Phil is a fun way to compose a meal and his prices, considering everything is organic, are good.
I got two cups of organic dried Great Northern beans from him for $2.00. I also can get them from an organic co-op near my house, though I pay a little more.
Shaped a bit like lima beans, Great Northerns are a great pantry staple, as they are hearty and sturdy, and have a meaty flavor that’s distinct from other white beans.
Beans keep in the pantry forever; both dry and canned beans are an essential part of my pantry and my cooking. The problem is that my pantry consists of only one cupboard above our stove (sigh), and because I like to keep it stocked, it's often crammed full with beans.
The good thing is that they are superb in many dishes such as baked beans, casseroles, soups, stews and chilis, which are all regular features on my menu.
Beans also can really flesh out a dish if you are trying to stretch. A few nights ago I made Moroccan Stew Pie. I had enough to fill one pie and half of another, so I added beans to the second and voila -- two pies!
Cassoulet is one of those comfort foods all in one dish. A slow-cooked bean stew? Count me in. I usually make the more traditional version from southwest France that includes duck legs and rustic sausages, but I adapted this simplified recipe from the amazing Southern Living Comfort Food. It has more affordable ingredients than any cassoulet recipe I’ve ever come across; it’s also one of the few recipes calling for dried beans that doesn’t call for presoaking the beans. If you can’t find boneless center-chop pork chops, buy them bone-in, and cut out the bone after browning them. I added the sausage as I found a fresh pork-leek one at my local market and thought the leek would infuse the rest of the dish, but any kind would be good (or you could leave it out as per the original recipe). I also added parsley to give it a fresh finish and add some color to an otherwise very beige-looking meal. Serves 6-8.
2 cups dried Great Northern beans
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb boneless center-cut pork chops
1 sausage (any type), sliced
8 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup tomato paste
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Sort and rinse beans; combine beans and 8 cups water in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand 1 hour; drain.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add pork chops. Cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove pork to a platter, but leave drippings in the pot. Cool pork slightly, and chop (remove the bone, if necessary). Cover and refrigerate.
Cook sausage and bacon in reserved pork drippings in the pot until crisp. Add onions, and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Add beans, halved garlic cloves, thyme, tomato paste and chicken broth. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 2 hour until beans are almost tender. Drain; reserve bean mixture and 3 cups of broth separately.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Return bean mixture to Dutch oven or other ovenproof cookware; add pork, reserved 3 cups broth, and wine. Cover and bake at 350° for 75 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
Toss together breadcrumbs, butter, minced garlic and parsley. Sprinkle over bean mixture; bake, uncovered, 20 minutes or until crumbs are golden.