Shortcuts to French cassoulet result in easy casseroles

When made from scratch, cassoulet, a famous classic dish from southeastern France, requires as much as a day of preparation. If you are more concerned with authenticity than cutting labor and cost you may prefer the original, more time-consuming method. However, with less effort and expense you can make a similar casserole, using with the beans a combination of ground beef and pork; beef, pork, and veal; chicken; or just sausage.

The dish is still a "cassoulet," for the name refers to the cooking vessel, "cassole," made from the earthenware of Issel, a tiny village near Castelnaudary , in the region of Languedoc.

To complete the meal serve crusty French bread, salad, and fruit for a light dessert. Ground Meat Cassoulet 6 slices bacon, diced 1 1/2 pounds mixture of ground beef, veal, and pork 1 20-ounce can red kidney beans 1 20-ounce can white kidney beans 1 1-pound can stewed tomatoes 1/4 cup chopped parsley 1 teaspoon thyme 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper

In a flameproof casserole, cook bacon until golden but not fully crisp. Remove to absorbent paper and reserve. In remaining fat, brown meat. Discard drippings. In a colander, drain beans. Rinse with cold water. Add to meat, together with tomatoes, parsley, and seasonings. Gently stir mixture to blend.

Over the top sprinkle reserved bacon. Bake casserole, covered, at 350 degrees F. for 1 hour. Serves 6 generously. Serve with mixed green salad. Chicken Cassoulet 1 cup chopped onion 2 cups sliced carrots 1 green pepper, sliced 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 pound sweet Italian sausage 4 chicken pieces 3 cans, 16 ounce each, pork and beans in tomato sauce 1/3 cup cider or apple juice 1 apple, peeled, cored, and grated 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon basil 1/2 cup dry seasoned bread crumbs 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

In large skillet, saute onion, carrot, and green pepper in oil. Remove and set aside. In same pan, fry sausage until cooked and lightly browned. Remove and cut in one-inch pieces. Set aside. Brown chicken in drippings.

Drain excess liquid from pork and beans, if necessary. Combine beans with apple juice, apple, Worcestershire, and basil. Arrange half of bean mixture in 5-quart casserole dish. Top with sausage and chicken, then remaining bean mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F. 40 minutes. Combine bread crumbs and parsley and sprinkle over top of casserole. Bake 20 minutes longer or until crumbs are nicely browned and casserole is heated through. Serves to 6 to 8. Cassoulet (Slow Pot Cooker) 1 1/2 cups small white or Great Northern beans 4 1/2 cups water 3 slices bacon, diced 2 medium onions, chopped 1 pound boneless lamb shoulder, cut in 1-inch pieces 1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 cup tomato juice

2 tablespoons tomato paste 1/2 cup beef stock or broth (fresh or canned) 1 carrot, peeled and grated 2 cloves garlic, minced Salt to taste 1 teaspoon thyme 1 pound mild Italian sausages

Soak beans overnight in water to cover. Drain. Simmer beans in 4 1/2 cups water 1 hour. Drain. Place in slow cooker. Saute bacon and inions in large skillet until golden. Transfer to cooker. Brown lamb and pork in remaining drippings. Transfer to cooker. Pour tomato juice, tomato paste, and stock or broth into pan. Stir to loosen drippings. Add to cooker along with carrot, garlic, salt, and thyme.cover. Cook on "low" 6 to 8 hours. Add sausages. Cook 1 hour longer. Slice sausage diagonally and arrange on top of casserole. Serve at once. Serves 8 to 10.

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