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Note: One of our most controversial stories this year was Russ Parsons' February cover piece on beans, "To Soak or Not to Soak, It's No Longer a Question." Ignoring conventional wisdom, Parsons ran several cooking experiments and found that dried beans do NOT have to be soaked before cooking. "Letting dried beans sit overnight in a bowl of cold water does nothing to improve their flavor or their texture. In fact, it does quite the opposite," Parsons wrote. "While soaking shortens the unattended cooking time of beans somewhat, the time saved is marginal and there are no other labor-saving benefits. Finally soaking does absolutely nothing to reduce the gas-producing properties of beans."
There was some grumbling on the part of disbelievers, but once people started trying recipes using unsoaked beans, we won several converts. One recipe from the issue that showed how well the method worked is this amazingly delicious cassoulet, adapted from Richard Olney's "The French Menu Cookbook" (Godine: 1970).
As Parsons wrote in his article, "Cassoulet is not a recipe for the faint of heart -- or the short of time. Allow yourself two days to do this one, and the amount of work should be manageable. And rest assured, the flavors are more than worth the effort."
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into short lengths
1 lamb shoulder, all surface fat removed, cut into large pieces but not boned
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup dry white wine
3 cloves garlic
Mixed herbs, such as dried thyme, oregano, marjoram and savory
1 (1-pound) can tomatoes or 3 to 4 fresh tomatoes
2 whole cloves garlic
White bread crumbs
Prepare Pan-Fried Goose and Bean Stew. Set aside. In 2 tablespoons fat rendered from Pan-Fried Goose, cook onions and carrots in heavy saute pan (just big enough to hold meat placed side by side) about 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until lightly browned.
Remove onions and carrots. In same pan over high heat, brown pieces of lamb, seasoned to taste with salt, in same fat. When browned on all sides, sprinkle with flour. Turn pieces over, then return vegetables to pan. When flour is lightly cooked, add white wine, garlic and sprinkling of herbs to taste. Scrape and stir with wooden spoon to loosen and dissolve browned bits. Transfer contents to heavy casserole.
Add tomatoes and enough of cooking liquid from Bean Stew to cover. Cook, covered, at bare simmer, either in 275-degree oven or over very low heat on stove top, 1 1/2 hours. Skim off surface fat 2 to 3 times.
Pour contents of casserole into sieve or colander over saucepan. Pick out pieces of meat and carrot and put aside. Press rest through sieve into saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cook at low simmer 15 minutes, skimming.
Rub bottom and sides of large, medium-deep earthenware oven dish with garlic cloves until garlic disappears. Untie pork rind from Bean Stew, cut into small dice and distribute over bottom of dish.
Cut Pan-Fried Goose into 2 pieces and place on bed of rinds. Drain beans, reserving liquid. Distribute about 1/3 of beans over and around pieces of goose. Split pig's foot from Bean Stew. Remove largest bones and cut each half into 3 to 4 pieces. Arrange pig's foot along with pieces of lamb and carrot, including carrot from Bean Stew, evenly over surface.
Cover everything with half of remaining beans. Distribute sausage from Bean Stew (cut into thick slices) and pancetta from Bean Stew (cut into squares) on top. Cover with remaining beans.
Generously sprinkle entire surface with bread crumbs. Then carefully, to moisten without displacing, pour over, ladle by ladle, sauce from lamb until liquid rises just to surface of beans.
Dust lightly again with bread crumbs. Sprinkle several tablespoons of melted goose fat over surface. Bake at 450 degrees until heated through and bubbling. Reduce heat to 300 degrees so gentle bubbling is maintained. After about 20 minutes, as liquid reduces, partly by absorption and partly by evaporation, begin to baste surface, first with remaining lamb sauce and then, when lamb sauce is finished, with remaining cooking liquid from Bean Stew.
Baste every 20 minutes. When golden-crisp crust has formed on surface, break crust all over with spoon so part becomes submerged and rest is moistened by sauce. Cassoulet should remain at least 2 hours in slow oven, and crust should be broken minimum of 3 times. But if basting liquids should run short before then, it is better to stop cooking than risk dish becoming too dry. Makes 14 servings.
Each serving contains about:
660 calories; 331 mg sodium; 96 mg cholesterol; 36 grams fat; 46 grams carbohydrates; 36 grams protein; 4.44 grams fiber.
1/4 goose, breast or leg
Dash mixed herbs
Goose fat from inside bird
1/4 cup water
Sprinkle goose with herbs and salt to taste. Let stand overnight.
Melt pieces of fat in pan with water over low heat. When nothing solid is left but cracklings, discard cracklings and strain off pure fat. Place goose in pan with fat and cook over low heat until tender. Save fat when done.
White Bean Stew
6 ounces fresh pork rind
1/2 pound pancetta
1 pig's foot
1/2 pound uncooked garlic sausage (cervelat)
2 pounds dried white beans
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into pieces
1 large onion, stuck with 2 cloves
2 cloves garlic
Place pork rind, pancetta and pig's foot in large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes, drain and rinse in cold water. Roll up pork rind and tie with kitchen string. Pierce sausage in several places. Set aside.
Cover beans generously with cold water in large, heavy saucepan or earthenware casserole. Bring slowly to boil. Drain. Return beans to saucepan along with carrots, onion, garlic, bouquet-garni, pork rind, pancetta, sausage and pig's foot. Pour in enough warm water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boil again, slowly. Cook at bare simmer. Do not add salt.
Remove sausage and pancetta after about 40 minutes. Reserve. Pig's foot and rind should cook with beans until beans are done, about 2 hours. Taste cooking liquid. Season to taste with salt. Put rind and pig's foot aside with sausage and pancetta. Discard onion and bouquet-garni.