“Weeknight Cassoulet” is kind of a misnomer. Technically, cassoulet is a dish that can take days to make, not counting lead time to procure the specialty beans (tarbais), various pork products (ham hocks, skin, salt pork, et al,) and less-than-readily available poultry (duck or goose). A few years ago, my husband and I made cassoulet for New Year's Eve. It seemed an appropriately cozy dish for two bleary-eyed new parents to make on a cold holiday night in. When I posted something on the internet about it taking two days, one friend was like Only two? When did you confit the duck legs? Sheesh!
It was delicious, hearty, heady, and soul-filling. And literally fed us for at least a week. But at this stage of my life (plus another kid, a cookbook, a cookie company, etc.) I don’t really have the time or energy to spend days on anything, let alone something that will ultimately end up in my stomach. So I stripped the recipe down to its simplest parts and rebuilt this almost effortless weeknight version.
Though it differs by region, a traditional French cassoulet was a peasant dish, making use of whatever was bountiful and available nearby. In my house, that means beans, standard aromatic vegetables, some kind of sausage, and Ritz crackers. In just 30 minutes, these simple ingredients add up to a deeply satisfying, warming meal that I am as happy to eat off my lap in front of the TV as I am at a nicely set table with a crisp glass of lightly chilled Syrah.
And it’s forgiving. Like most of the recipes I write, I try not to be too prescriptive. That’s because home cooking, especially pantry cooking, doesn’t look the same in every kitchen. We all have different equipment and unique staples at the ready. I call for Italian sausages because I like to keep them stashed in the freezer for grilling, roasting or ragu-ing. But if you have Bratwurst, Kielbasa or heck, hot dogs, toss ‘em in. Whatever links you like will infuse the rest of the dish with salty, pork-flavored undertones, no ham hocks necessary. For the next layer, I call for onion, celery and garlic—what I likely had on hand when I went to cook it the first time. But feel free to make adjustments depending on what’s in your crisper: got one lonely carrot laying around? Chop it up and stir it in. Half a fennel bulb? Great idea! I’d even take a green bell pepper, though I think I’m the only person I know who likes them.
The beans (pre-cooked!) make the bulk of the dish, so no matter which you choose, make sure they’re a type you like. I usually have some canned white beans ready to go, as well as some simmered-from-dry Rancho Gordo options. (Hot tip: One pound of dried beans, cooked, yields just about the same amount as four 15.5-ounce cans. Once tender, divide and store the beans accordingly so you can swap them in for a can wherever called for). I’ve made this recipe a bunch of times with a variety of beans. Using brothy options I cooked myself offers the finished dish more long-cooked flavor, of course, but shortcuts are welcome here. When I use canned beans, I like to include the bean jus as well. That liquid is pre-seasoned and tastes like, well, beans, adding far more flavor than plain water.
The real motivation behind this cassoulet recipe is an excuse to consume a golden, crunchy topping. Use whatever crumbs you have. Italian-style (oregano and basil—yum!), panko (wonderful crunch) or, my favorite: buttery golden Ritz crackers, pulverized. Because they’re engineered to be delicious on their own, packaged crackers (or crushed pita chips or even pretzels) can make super simple recipes like this one really sing.
I was nervous to call this a “cassoulet” at all, seeing as it eschews traditional ingredients, methods, and even the vessel for which the dish is named. But it does offer a similar saucy bean experience, complete with an irresistible breadcrumb topping, in a fraction of the time and without any advanced planning. A win in my book for holidays—or any day. Should I have called it “Brothy Beans With Sausage and Breadcrumbs?” Maybe. But I’m not going to worry about it now. It’s ready to eat.
From READY, SET, COOK by Dawn Perry. Copyright © 2021 by Dawn Perry. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. —Dawn Perry
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe was featured on our cook-along podcast Play Me a Recipe. Listen as Dawn cooks her way through this recipe.
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- Serves 4
olive oil, divided
sweet Italian sausages (about 1 pound total)
onion (any color), chopped
stalk celery, thinly sliced
garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Two (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini or white northern beans (undrained)
white wine vinegar
panko, coarse fresh bread crumbs, or cracker crumbs
chopped fresh parsley
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Prick sausages all over with the tip of a knife. Add the sausages to the skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until brown all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.
- Add onion, celery, and garlic to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add beans and their liquid, the water, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Slice sausages and return to the skillet. Stir in the vinegar and remove from heat.
- Preheat broiler with rack in the top position. In a small bowl, stir panko, parsley, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season the bread crumbs with a little salt and pepper and scatter over beans and sausage. Transfer the skillet to the oven and broil (watch carefully! Broilers vary like crazy) until the top is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.