Today’s recipe for one-pot sausage and white bean casserole is for that in-between weather that we’re having here in London.
Londoners are all over the place when it comes to the weather. Almost every random conversation I have invariably starts with a comment about the kind of day we’re having. “It’s really foul out there today, isn’t it?” or “My, we just can’t catch a lucky break with this weather.” It seems like living here programs you to not only learn to put up with gray skies and dreary wetness, but also to need to commiserate about it to every stranger you encounter.
When we finally, finally get that sunny day we’ve all been waiting for, we don’t know what to do with themselves. This general state of confusion evidences itself first of all in clothing choices. On a bright, 70-degree day, invariably someone is outside in a full-length, down coat. If you ask this person (which I have) why they’re wearing Canada Goose while neighbors hustle by in shorts and sunglasses, they’ll look at you conspiratorially and whisper-tell you, “This is London, dear. One can never rely on the weather the way we do the Queen.”
The moodiness of London weather also affects how we eat. On hot, sunny days, we take full advantage by throwing everything we can on the grill. I make a couple of salads, and we’ll sit on our apartment balcony soaking up every last ray of sunshine, drinking rose wine and congratulating ourselves for having the good fortune to have actual, real sunshine. But, just like the unpredictability of the Alexa on our Echo Dot to understand my five-year-old’s yelling demands, what the sunshine brings, London taketh away. I’ve gone to bed wearing shorts and a t-shirt, only to wake up in the morning and bundle myself in my gigantic fleece robe, beanie hat and wool slippers. On days like that, all I want is something hot and comforting, like this one-pot sausage and white bean casserole (also known as a cassoulet).
The beauty of this sausage and white bean casserole is that I almost always have the basic ingredients on hand: canned white (cannellini) beans, a couple of cans of chopped tomatoes, bread crumbs, leftover wine. I buy sausages whenever I think to and freeze them, so all that I need to do to throw this dinner together is to take the sausages out of my freezer in the morning to thaw out on a baking tray.
This sausage and white bean casserole is basically a fancy, tastier French version of the franks and beans you might’ve had for school lunch back in the day. A mixture of herbs and bread crumbs on top helps to not only add texture to this magical dish, but also to thicken the tomato sauce that surrounds the sausages. The marriage of sausage, tomatoes, beans and bread crumb topping is thick and hearty. I also make a parsley, lemon zest and olive oil “gremolata” (like a pesto) that adds a zippiness to the dish as well.
We had this sausage and white bean casserole on a recent day when it was so cold and rainy after a week of amazing, sunny weather. The kids trudged home from school that afternoon in their heavy jackets and “wellies” (rain boots), and we all sat down around the table to dip crusty pieces of baguette into the cassoulet over and over again. At first, no one spoke. We were all too downtrodden and soaked.
After the first few hunks of baguette disappeared, our voices found their way back, and we recapped our day together. We talked about why the animals in the zoo might not mind being rained on (and why they might). We talked about where the teachers go after school ends (a revelation: they don’t live there). We talked about the implications of the North Korea-South Korea meeting coming up in a few weeks (Ge Ge has a lot of thoughts on this topic).
All was right again.
- For the sausage and white bean casserole:
- 6 sausage links (approximately 1 lb/500g)
- 2 14-oz (400g) cans of chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup of white wine or chicken stock
- 1 14-oz (400g) can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ cup olive oil, plus more for searing the sausages (about 1 tablespoon)
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
- 1 cup onion (about ½ large), finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- For the gremolata:
- ½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 cups (approximately 1 bunch) of Italian flat-leaf parsley, washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
- 1 lemon, juice and zest
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 small garlic clove
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/160 degrees Celsius.
- In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, olive oil and flat leaf parsley. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- In a heavy bottomed, deep ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Add the sausages and sear on all sides until they're browned. Remove the sausages from the pan and reserve on a plate.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low heat and add the onion, stirring constantly to avoid browning the onion too much. Let the onion cook for 8-10 minutes until it's soft and translucent, then add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
- With the burner still on, add the white wine (or chicken stock), chopped tomatoes (don't drain them), and beans, stirring to combine everything together. Nestle the sausages into the tomato and bean mixture and bring to a simmer.
- Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the surface of the sausage and tomatoes, then slide everything into the oven. Bake uncovered for 20-30 minutes until the sausages are cooked through and the bread crumbs are browned.
- While the cassoulet is cooking, make the gremolata. Combine the garlic clove, salt, pepper, and parsley in the bowl of a food processor. With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil into the food processor until everything is combined. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest and set aside.
- Remove the casserole the oven, garnish with additional fresh parsley and serve immediately with gremolata on the side.