A super-simplified version of cassoulet is perfect for Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day.  Leave it to the French to elevate a simple bean casserole into a gastronomic masterpiece traditionally replete with goose, pork, and lamb.

This ennobled one-pot bean dish is one of France’s favorite bistro delicacies. The aromas whip sleepy wintertime olfactories into a frenzy as bubbling bean juices jockey around the edges of a crunchy, browned bread topping.

I’ve made my share of authentic cassoulets, simmering, skimming, and sauteing for the three-day process. I wiggle out of the work for this lazy-day version. It can be made in advance, refrigerated, and reheated.

No goose, no lamb. Ho, ho, ho.

Easy Cassoulet

Yield: 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

4 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, excess skin and fat removed

Seasoning blend to taste (see cook’s notes)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

6 ounces pancetta, diced (see cook’s note)

3 smoked boneless center-cut pork chops, about 1 pound

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

1 large or 2 medium brown onions, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

3/4 cup chicken broth, plus 1/4 cup more if needed

1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

Bouquet garni: Celery, 1 sprig parsley, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf (see cook’s note)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, drained, not rinsed

2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained, not rinsed

1 pound smoked kielbasa sausage (turkey or pork), cut into 1/2-inch diagonal slices

6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley combined with 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, divided use

Crouton garnish (see cook’s notes)

Cook’s notes: You can use any brand of seasoning blend you like, but because the canned beans and sausage tend to be salty, a salt-free or reduced-salt blend is preferred. I use Spike Original or Spike Salt-Free Magic.

Pancetta is an Italian dry-cured, spicy bacon. It’s sold at Italian markets and many supermarkets. It’s a good idea to buy more than you need for this recipe and store small quantities in sandwich-size zipper-style plastic bags in the freezer. One or two tablespoons diced pancetta (fried and drained) adds a lot of flavor to quick pasta dishes, casseroles, and salads.

To prepare croutons, cut 8 thin diagonal slices from French baguette. Spread slices out on rimmed baking sheet. Lightly brush both sides of slices with olive oil. Place in 350-degree oven and toast until crunchy and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them because timing varies.

A bouquet garni is a packet of several herbs either tied together or enclosed in cheesecloth that is used to flavor a soup, sauce or stew. It is removed before serving. To create an easy bouquet garni, place parsley, thyme and bay leaf in the hollow curve of a stalk of celery. Cover with a second stalk of celery and tie with cotton string.

PROCEDURE

1. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously season chicken thighs with seasoning blend on both sides. Place in single layer on small baking dish and bake for 45 minutes in preheated oven.

2. Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 5-quart, deep ovenproof casserole dish. Add pancetta and pork chops. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 20 minutes, turning once.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil. Add onions and garlic. Cook on medium-high until onion is transparent. Stir in broth, tomato paste, bouquet garni, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 2 minutes. Stir in beans and 4 tablespoons fresh herb mixture. Simmer for 2 minutes.

4.  Remove chops and pancetta from casserole, draining any excess oil. Pour half the bean mixture into casserole. Add pancetta, chops, chicken thighs (remove skin if you prefer) and sausage. Top with remaining bean mixture. If mixture seems dry, add 1/4 cup of chicken broth.

5. Bake, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes or until bubbling around edges and heated throughout (or 35-40 minutes if it has been refrigerated). Remove and discard bouquet garni. Garnish servings with croutons and remaining fresh herb mixture.

Have a cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at cathythomascooks@gmail.com

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