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Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

December 23, 2012

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Cash held captive in a foreign bank account emails me daily, begging for release. Deep discounts shout from my mailbox. Low, low rates phone incessantly. None of which tempt me. I know better.

And yet, I'm an easy mark. All a recipe has to claim is "easy" and "cassoulet," and I bite. Again.

I last fell for this scam about five years ago. Ever credulous, I skipped to the store, snagging a sack of beans, a string of sausages and a stack of duck legs confit. Why couldn't a three-day project be collapsed into an hour?

I soaked and stewed. I shredded and sweated. I tried and tried again. For a week. Mention cassoulet, and my children still turn the color of lima beans slicked with duck fat.

All these years later, I was due for another bout. I came across a compact recipe for classic cassoulet; it boasted last-minute, 50 percent-off, deal-of-the-day swag.

Imagine my surprise to find its simple steps hid a day of soaking here, a night of simmering there. After which my bean stew spooned up somewhat rare. Crisp, even. Which, in a bean, is not good.

It occurred to me that beans should be tender. And that beans come pre-tenderized in a can. And that by applying can and opener to recipe, I might make something both cold-weather cozy and easy. If not — strictly speaking — classic.

Can-soulet

Prep: 45 minutes
Bake: 45 minutes
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
8 cloves garlic, whole, unpeeled
1 teaspoon olive oil
Kosher salt
¼ pound fresh kielbasa or other garlic/pork sausage
3 cups chicken broth
3/4 pound smoked chorizo sausage, sliced on the diagonal into elongated coins
2 duck legs confit
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Roast:
Drizzle whole garlic cloves with olive oil. Wrap in 2 layers of foil and toss the packet in a 400-degree oven until soft and fragrant, about 30 minutes. Let cool. Squeeze roasted garlic from its skin. Use a fork to mash with a pinch of salt.

Poach:
Meanwhile, settle fresh sausage in a saucepan. Pour in broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Pull out sausage; save broth. When cool enough to handle, pull off casing, crumble sausage. Skim any fat from broth.

Shred:
Shred duck meat, discarding skin and bone, saving fat.

Wilt:
In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons confit fat. Add onion and thyme, and stir until wilted, 10 minutes. Stir in beans, garlic mash, both types of sausage and shredded duck. Pour in enough reserved sausage-poaching broth so that mixture looks somewhat thinner than chili. You may not need all the broth. Taste; add salt if need be. Bring to a boil.

Bake:
Pack cassoulet into an ovenproof casserole. Toss together breadcrumbs and butter. Spread over top. Bake at 425 degrees until bubbling thick at the sides, golden brown on top, about 45 minutes.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com