Like tagine or daube, cassoulet is named after its pot, the cassole. Typically earthenware, this slant-sided low-slung vessel embraces a hearty combination of meat, poultry, sausage and white beans cooked for hours and served to a crowd. The classic dish hails from the south of France and reminds me of a convivial dinner with family and friends on a wintry evening. This lighter, simpler, and faster version of cassoulet gains its personality from the addition of a fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and homemade fennel pollen salt. It was a perfect early spring supper for two.
Since we cook a pot of dried beans just about every week, I had white cannellini beans on hand, but you could use canned beans. In addition to the vegetables, the dish included chicken thighs that were roasted in a hot oven until browned, and sweet Italian sausage. The ingredients are all tossed together with homemade chicken stock, topped with a combination of panko and Parmesan cheese, and baked.
This was delicious the first night but even better the second, when the sausage and fennel seed hit their stride.
4 chicken thighs or whole legs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
Approximately 1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
½ lb sweet Italian sausage (2 links), casing removed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, halved, cored and cut into ½-inch dice
1 carrot, cut into ½-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced rosemary needles
2 tsp minced thyme leaves
2 tsp fennel seeds
Optional: fennel pollen salt
2 c cooked dried white cannellini or kidney beans (or use canned)
2 c chicken stock, preferably homemade
½ c panko or bread crumbs
1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly brush the chicken with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast on a baking sheet and bake until browned and cooked through, about 30-35 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a deep skillet, heat a little of the olive oil and sauté the sausage until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Pour off excess fat, if any, add a little more oil if needed, and add the onion, fennel and carrot, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook until fragrant, another 3 minutes. Add the beans.
Place the vegetables and in a shallow roasting dish (you can cook it in the skillet if it has an ovenproof handle). Add the chicken stock. Taste for salt and add salt or fennel pollen salt. Nestle the chicken legs in the stew. Mix together the panko and cheese and pat on top.
Bake in the upper third of the oven until the stew is bubbling and the topping is crisp. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.