A traditional cassoulet is an experience in beans and meats, and more meats, and can be quite heavy. This lightened up version uses no meat at all, just meaty mushrooms and lots of other flavor.
The traditional slow-cooked cassoulet was created in France, the original Languedoc region towns of Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Castelnaudary. It was a pleasant peasant dish of white beans and preserved meats. Each town had their specialities, ranging from more soup-like to thick and creamy, and using different cuts of meats. I take this as my license to create as I wish!
Over time, this hearty bean dish has evolved to include combinations of several types of meats including pork, chicken, duck, goose, mutton, lamb, and many cuts and cures beyond the confit duck legs and salt pork or sausages. Often, modern versions have far more meat and meat fat than beans! It can be quite rich and heavy.
This version uses none of that, but substitutes several mushrooms to create a healthier but still hearty take on the original, and it’s considerably less expensive as well!
Let’s add tomatoes
Some versions of cassoulet include a tomato product, and I have included this vegetable in my dish in two ways, tomato paste and canned tomatoes. The tomato adds its own flavor and richness.
The signature breadcrumb topping
Most versions include a delicious breadcrumb topping that is browned in the oven, pierced with a spoon several times in the cooking to mix with some of the bean cooking liquid, and browned before presentation. I’ve done that, although not to the exacting number of times that perhaps a purist would expect.
Three types of mushrooms, and a stock
We are using three different types of mushrooms here. The meaty portabella mushrooms provide the visual interests and large presence, while the cremini mushrooms create bulk. Use what mushrooms you love. The stock I used was homemade mushroom stock from stems and pieces I had saved. We’ve also added some dried mushrooms directly to the bean cooking liquid to enhance this flavor as well.
Some fresh beans, just for a change of pace
In addition to the dried beans which serve as the base to this dish, we are adding fresh green beans at the end for a different bean texture and flavor. It adds freshness and visual appeal, and I thought it would be a nice relief from the slow-cooked food.
Purely for flavor, we’re using the fennel bulbs, fronds, and seeds in this dish, and adding the traditional thyme and bay leaves.
This takes hours to make, but most of it is hands-off! It’s a perfect dish to make on a Sunday when you want to fuss a bit, but not too much, and you want something delicious to serve and perhaps have leftovers the rest of the week. This makes a lot, so you can feed a crowd.
Because this was a weekend slow food experience for me, I cooked the beans first gently on top of the stove. You can also pressure cook them to start if you like. Either way, this will turn out better if you soak the beans overnight to begin softening them up.
Three Mushroom Cassoulet
- 1 lb. cannellini beans, soaked overnight
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 ribs of celery, diced, OR ½ head celeriac
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. crushed fennel seeds
- A few dried mushrooms, crushed
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 6 cups mushroom or vegetable stock, or water
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Small bunch of parsley
- A few fennel fronds
- 10 or so sprigs of thyme
- 2 or 3 bay leaves
- 3 portabella mushrooms, thick slice
- 1 lb. crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 heads of fennel, sliced
- 2 carrots, cut into coins
- 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, quartered
- Salt to taste
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
- 2 cups fresh green beans, chopped
Soak beans overnight in plenty of water to cover by several inches and a tablespoon of salt. In the morning, drain and rinse.
In a large stockpot over medium high heat, warm the olive oil and add the onion and celery.
Sauté until the onions have softened, then add the tomato paste, fennel seeds, and dried mushrooms. Continue cooking for a few minutes and mix in the garlic for an additional 30 seconds or so, until fragrant.
Add the vegetable broth or water, salt, and ground pepper, and make a bouquet garni with the thyme and parsley and pop that in the pot as well, along with the bay leaves.
Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for an hour and a half. The beans will just be starting to soften. You may have to add a bit more stock or water to the pot to keep the beans submerged.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
The trio of portabella, crimini, and dried porcini mushrooms create a lovely mushroom flavor for this cassoulet.
In a large sauté pan, brown the portabella mushrooms on both sides in a little more olive oil and add to the beans. Brown the crimini mushrooms in the same sauté pan, and add those to the pot as well.
Add the fennel, carrots, and canned tomatoes.
Mix everything well, cover, and place in the oven for an hour and a half more, or until the beans and vegetables are tender. This will depend on your own oven and the dryness of the beans themselves, so don’t rush it.
In the meantime, add a bit more oil to the mushroom pan and add the panko and paprika. Toast the crumbs just until they start browning, but don’t take them far. They will finish in the oven. Set aside.
When the vegetables and beans are tender, remove from the oven and taste. It will probably need a little more salt. Add the fresh green or wax beans, stir them in well. Fish out the bay leaves and bouquet garni, they’ve done their work.
Sprinkle the top with the panko mixture, and drizzle with more olive oil. Turn the heat up to 375 and return the pot to the oven, uncovered.
Cook for 30 minutes, and break up the crust just a little with the side of a spoon once or twice, letting the bean liquid ooze a bit. Continue baking until nicely browned. Let set for 15 minutes, then serve, garnishing with a few more fennel fronds if you remembered to keep them way back when you started the dish…
Cassoulet on Toast
The cassoulet will thicken as it sits overnight in the refrigerator. If you are a fan of beans on toast, try yesterday’s cassoulet on a hearty piece of whole-grain sourdough toast, topped with a few rainbow sprouts, and a drizzle of lemon juicer! Yummy!
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