Heart and Soul Warmer for 2-3 people

Cassoulet

While the wind and rain batters us to bits, here’s my version of this timeless classic. There is nothing quite like taking a pot of this from the oven to the table, opening the lid and feeling the hit of herby, rich savoury steam fill the room. A good green salad with plenty of dressing and perhaps some crusty bread if you’re making it go along way, is all you need to accompany this.

You need a deepish, cast-iron enamelled (or similar) casserole dish with lid for this. I bring it to the boil on the top of the Aga first and then bake for 1/2hr at about 160 to get it really hot. Then transfer to simmering oven for a few hours at least.

3 slices belly pork (include any bones, fat and rind for flavour), cut into 5 cm pieces

3 garlicky pork sausages (you can use ordinary sausages if necessary with 2 extra cloves of garlic in the cooking pan)

3 x duck/chicken legs (optional)

Roast the duck or chicken legs ‘til browned, and set aside.

In a large frying pan, fry the belly pork ‘til browned, and set aside.

Fry the sausages ‘til browned, cut them into 5 cm pieces and set aside.

I large onion

2 cloves garlic

Tomato puree

1 tin of tomatoes

1 chicken stock cube

Red wine

Black pepper

Water

Fry a large chopped onion in some oil until browned. Add 2 chopped cloves of garlic, a good squirt of tomato puree, a tin of chopped tomatoes, a chicken stock cube, a good glug of red wine, plenty of black pepper and enough water to keep it a thickish sauce.

Put all the meats into this lovely sauce and simmer for 10/15 mins until nicely rich and gooey. Add a little water from time to time to keep it from going too thick and sticking to the pan. Set aside.

2/3 tins cannellini beans

Half a loaf of white bread (not too fresh is easiest)

Thyme, bay and parsley

Open 2 tins of cannellini beans and rinse. You may need another tin if you want it beany.

Take half a loaf of white bread, broken into small pieces and whizz in a grinder to coarse breadcrumbs.

In your casserole put a layer of meat and tomato in the bottom. Then a layer of beans and repeat until it’s all used up. Add some water if you think it needs it.

Make a bundle of 2 thyme sprigs, a bay leaf and some parsley by winding some cotton around them (just leave the end loose… it wont’ unwind itself too much). Shove this in the centre of the pot.

Sprinkle the crumbs over the top of this and put the lid on.

Cook as above. Many recipes don’t use the breadcrumbs, they wait for the beans to go crusty instead and stir them in at least twice through extra long cooking time. And yes this is delicious!! However if you want to get on with other things and not have to worry about all that, the breadcrumb crust works excellently. It should absorb some of the cooking liquid and become crusty with gooey bits around the edge. Truly delicious!!

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