Bean Cassoulet: When you learn about cooking from scratch (no pun intended) it's hard to escape learning about the French style. And while this style originated from Italian influences (see The New Yorker's Secret Ingredients) it is simply the standard bearer of (Western) cuisine. I don't cook much in the French style but I do like to look at certain recipes. It's hard not to be intrigued by a ragout over a stew, even though they're essentially the same thing. So when I came across a recipe for a cassoulet, I was intrigued indeed.
As Winter is fast approaching, I've been intrigued not only by the idea of a cassoulet but with the concept of eating cleaner meats, ones that have been raised humanely and without much antibiotics or added hormones (see Days Between Days for John Oliver's update on what you might be eating). I remember reading in Bill Buford's Heat (where he details his tenure in a high-class kitchen) about preparing a pork shoulder by allowing the heat to slowly tenderize it over the course of many hours. Such an image seems symbiotic with the cold days of Winter. So when I saw that pork shoulder was included in a cassoulet, I knew it was a recipe I wanted to try. The thing is, a cassoulet calls for a lot of meat; not just pork shoulder but bacon and chorizo as well (depending on the recipe). Essentially, a cassoulet requires a lot of meat for someone who doesn't eat much of it and doesn't make much money. But the recipe also calls for beans: Great Northern or small white beans. And with the dish's method of slowly simmering ingredients in a wine and tomato broth with onions and herbs, I figured that adjusting ingredients and using beans alone would make for a satisfying, hearty dish. Thomas Keller provides a great cassoulet recipe through the Williams-Sonoma website (found here). Simply adjust ingredients as you see fit to make your own version of a cassoulet.