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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.

Grea northern 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!

Easy cassoulet

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.

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Cannellini vinaigrette
White bean garlic dip
White chili
Black bean cakes

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Looks like a very heart-warming meal.

thanks for the recipe.....4 hours of cooking for beans sounds like a lot though. Are there any short cuts?

Great recipe - traditional cassoulet is daunting, but I can see putting this on the stove and letting it bubble away on a cold winter day.

Delicious, and thanks to Stephanie for the tip about the vendor on Queen West! Next time I visit my in-laws, I will check check him out!

I haven't made cassoulet in years. It sounds perfect for the cold, wet weather we are getting right now!

Great Sunday supper on a winter day thanks!
and another great justification for my very expensive Le Creuset!

One of my favorite types of beans, they sound delish.

I love this recipe and will try it out. I like to make soup with these beans too, like my grandfather taught me. He called his 'Bean Josh'....good memories

Thanks for the revised cassoulet recipe; sounds much more healthful than the traditional.

I commiserate with your lack of storage space. Here's a suggestion for dried bean storage.

Since they are so hardy and not easily susceptible to infestations, I store my beans in the nearest shelf. I use a broad basket and homemade bags from scrap fabric for decorative value, but a sturdy cardboard box with paper bags worked in my experimental stage. Label the bags clearly, fold down the tops and place the beans in the basket alphabetically. I use a lot of turtle beans, white beans and garbanzos, so they go in large glass jars--very pretty, even in the living room.

It's worked much better to have the space for sauces and other cooking staples near to hand. Since beans have a long prep stage, it's not a big inconvenience to walk several steps to the next room because I'm not actually in the cooking process.

Hope you like this idea and can adapt it to your own situation.

This sounds delicious! Your picture looks beautifully golden. At this time of year, I love food that simmers and combines flavors for a long time. I will definitely try this.

I am intrigued by the idea of food book clubs: are they ongoing, or occasional? What books have worked well for this?

This sounds wonderful! Dave asked for a quicker version. I have a low-fat, under-an-hour version of a "Faux Cassoulet" on my blog using canned beans. http://heidicookssupper.blogspot.com/2009/10/faux-cassoulet-quick-low-fat-white.html

Looks tasty! I'll have to look for him next time I am in Queen West. Or maybe send my daughter, she lives in Kensington Market.
Great to know you!

Hi Dave,

You were asking about a quicker method - canned beans are certainly an option. But you'd want to add them in later and not cook them for long. Many people use canned beans for this reason. And you don't have to plan it all out the night before...

Hi Betys,

Thanks so much for your suggestions on storing beans. Clear jars are a great way to store them and you're right - you don't have to keep them in the kitchen! As soon as I figure out a new system, I'll take some photos and show you.

Many thanks,


Hi Jenna,

Thanks for your questions about the food book clubs. The first one we did was regional, so 6 regions were chosen and then we paired the food to the place. We met once a month for 6 months. We're doing the same thing starting in March and a similar one, but more food-centric - http://www.booksabroad.com/Appetite/tabid/172/Default.aspx - in February (It's sold out, but you can call the store to be put on a waiting list. If we get enough people, we'll do a second session!).

I think that you can have a food book club with friends, colleagues and neighbours and set it up where it's potluck or one person cooks for when it's at their house. You can do recipes based on the book or not. You can set it up for as often as you like!

And as for the books, you can choose whatever you like - mysteries, best sellers, memoirs - the possibilities are endless!

One thing that you can count on though, is that books and food go so well together!

Many thanks,


Hi Heidi,

You said your daughter lives in Kensington Market? What a fabulous foodie heaven! This is one of the best places to stock your pantry - health food stores, spice bodegas and little places from around the world selling their wares. In the matter of only a few blocks you can get homemade empanadas, cans of hominy, greek oregano, zatar and oaxaca cheese!

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