So, in lieu of a recipe (since all I did was sprinkle bread crumbs and bake it up), I thought I would write a bit about the history of this hearty and satisfying dish. I've found several variations of this legend:
During the 100-year-war (between 1337 and 1453), the inhabitants of Castelnaudary, who were besieged by the English, made a gigantic ragout gathering of all their reserves of beans and various meat: geese, pork and sausages. Perked up by this imposing dish, they victoriously pushed back the enemy.
(from Chef Eric)
Cracking open my cherished copy of Larousse Gastronomique, I was not surprised to find a lengthy entry concerning cassoulet. This is a dish that is inherently French, and we all know that the French are fiercely protective of their national dishes. One of the many things I love so much about the French people is their dedication to preserving the qualities of traditional dishes--how many other countries have a "Gastronomie" committee whose sole job is to regulate the ingredients and quality of certain recipes? Did you know that in France, by law, a cassoulet must by made up of 30% pork (which can include sausage and Toulouse sausage, but never Strasbourg sausage), preserved duck or goose; and 70% haricot beans and stock, fresh pork rinds, herbs and flavorings? A generous final coating of breadcrumbs is then required for a golden crust. Some communities even have distinctions on how the dish should be eaten--in Castelnaudary they insist on breaking the gratin crust 7 times, while in Toulouse 8 times is customary.
In spite of these specifications, there are as many variations on cassoulet as there are people who take credit for it. The cassoulet we brought back with us contains fat slices of homemade pork sausage (saussicon du porc), duck leg confit (confit du canard), white beans (haricort blanc), and a very light tomato sauce. I made the bread crumbs from my sturdy loaf out of the freezer.
As a fitting accompianment to this dinner, I served the cassoulet alongside a simple salad out of torn baby escarole leaves tossed in Perfect Vinaigrette, and a bottle of wine we trucked across the ocean with us--a 2001 Chateau de Lamarque Haut-Medoc Bordeaux. Of course, my wonderful creme brulee was the perfect dessert. When all was said and done, we enjoyed a meal that had us passing honeymoon memories back and forth all night.