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Cassoulet

1 pound white beans (great northern or navy)
2 ounces slab bacon, cut into small pieces
1 4-ounce piece of smoked ham
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
bouquet garni
3 tablespoons peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes (2 medium fresh, or use canned)
1 quart chicken stock or water (enough to cover beans)
4 thighs confit de canard (see note)
1 pound sweet sausages
1/2 pound lamb cut into 1-inch cubes (from the leg, neck, shoulder, or breast)
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons melted sweet butter

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Change water and rinse
often. In a large, heavy saucepan or kettle, combine the beans,
bacon, ham, onion, garlic, bouquet garni, tomatoes, and enough
chicken stock or water to just cover the beans. Bring to a boil
over moderately high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are
soft but not mushy, 45 to 60 minutes. (Cooking time varies according
to variety and age of beans.) Brown confit as directed on package
or until crisp and golden. Cook and brown sausages. Saute lamb in
a small amount of cooking oil or butter until brown. Drain all
meats on paper towels. In a large, oven-proof casserole, arrange
the pieces of confit to fit the bottom snugly. Spoon over a layer
of beans. Cover with lamb and add another layer of beans. Add the
sausages and top with the remaining beans. Preheat oven to 425
degrees. Combine the bread crumbs and parsley. Sprinkle over the
top. Dribble with melted butter and set in the middle of the
preheated oven. Cook until top is browned and golden, about 30
minutes. Add a cup of water or two around the edges during cooking
to moisten, if desired. Serve right from the pot while hot. Serves
4 to 6.

Notes: Make the bouquet garni of sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley
tucked inside a thick piece of leek and secured with kitchen string.
This makes it easy to remove at the end of cooking when all of the
flavor has been released. An alternative is to tie herbs in a small
piece of cheesecloth, which can be lifted out.

Confit de canard is duck preserved in its own fat. While once
impossible to find outside France, this delicacy is now available
in some fancy food stores or by mail order. Ambitious cooks might
want to try their hand at making their own. The somewhat laborious
procedure is described in many classic French cookbooks.

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