This cassoulet came out so good. I put a lot of thyme into it (and time, and love) and also garlic. Lots of garlic. At least one other food blogger of my acquaintance posted about cassoulet today, and if you’ve ever made this, you know that you can’t just decide at five o’clock that you’re making cassoulet for dinner. Not gonna happen. Not the way I make it, anyway.
Cassoulet is fancy pants French for pork n’ beans. The kind you pour out of a can, with little cut up chunks of hot dog? That is cassoulet. So is this.
You can put whatever kind of fatty, flavorful meat you want in it. A particular kind of French sausage that has a lot of garlic and some thyme in it is the traditional ingredient to use. I made little meatballs with the same flavor profile.
To start, I soaked a pound of navy beans overnight, then cooked them gently in two quarts of pork stock and a quart of water. After it had been cooking for a little while, I added some crushed up bay leaf, fresh thyme, three ounces of garlic scape pesto, and a mirepoix that I sauteed in pork fat.
When the beans were very tender, I let the pot cool and set it outside overnight. (You don’t have to leave the beans overnight before proceeding, but it’s an option.)
I took two pounds of ground meat, one of pork and one of beef, and made seasoned meatballs out of the mixture, with plenty of crushed garlic, half an onion, fresh thyme, salt (1 tsp per pound of ground meat is a good baseline), and freshly ground pepper.
The pig’s feet are also an optional ingredient. I had four of them, even though we only buy half a pig at a time, because some people don’t want their feet and the farmer will let us have some extra parts he has no use for, either. I used the heart in the stock. Sometimes I’ll just stew the heart, but by itself it isn’t much meat and these are the parts I’m down to.
I do not recommend that you try to skin pig’s feet if you are not confident at butchering. The skin is tough, the feet are all knuckle and sinew, and your knife is going to hit a lot of bone. I sharpened twice, once before starting and again after the third foot.
My mother is not of Italian descent, but she learned to make sauce like a southern Italian, because my father is of Sicilian descent. We grew up eating pasta with red sauce twice a week. My mother made the sauce in huge batches, and she used pig’s feet. She did not skin them. My father would then eat them, though in my experience, there is basically no meat at all on a pig’s foot.
The feet I get are more pungent than anything my mother ever got from the grocery store, so I skin them before I use them. They still are a little funky, but not offensively so.
I brought the beans in off the porch and set them on a low flame to thaw while I skinned my pig’s feet.
After getting their skins off, I browned them in the oven, in a big cast iron roasting pan. 350 for ten minutes, turn them over, ten more minutes. Then I set the feet on a platter while I browned the meatballs the same way. Even though they are technically round, I have not perfected the art of getting an even roast all the way around meatballs. I turn them once and call it good.
I put the feet back into the roasting pan, gently, making one layer for all the meaty things, then poured the beans over it all, including all of their precious liquor (”pot likker,” some call it).
I roasted all that in a nice gentle 300 degree oven, turning the meatballs and pig’s feet over every half hour. I had calculated the liquid I would need with canny accuracy, but natural products and recipe variations being what they are, you might need to add more liquid at some point. Otherwise, you want to cook this down until it’s just barely wet.
That’s when I’d take out anything you don’t want to eat, like the pig’s feet.
I made a seasoned breadcrumb mixture to finish. Again, I was generous with the garlic. Parsley and thyme, salt and pepper. Sprinkled that all over the whole pan of beans and meatballs, turned the heat up to 350, and gave it a little toast.
This is terrific served with light, yet rustic, winter vegetables like turnips and cabbage. The beans are seriously hearty, and a scoop of with one meatball makes a nice serving.