In its most simple state, a cassoulet is a slow-simmering bean dish with little bits of meat or sausage. A mixture of meat adds depth, and the medley of sausages here (versus traditional large hunks of slow-cooking meats) speeds up the cook time without sacrificing flavor. Look for D'Artagnan sausages at specialty stores, or order online from dartagnan.com. Open some great red wine, and chase this course with a bitter green salad.
8 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)
1. Preheat oven to 325°.
2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add sausages; cook 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove sausages from pan using a slotted spoon; drain. Wipe pan with paper towels, leaving browned bits on bottom of pan. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and next 5 ingredients (through salt); cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine and cognac; bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.
3. Place thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and cloves on a double layer of cheesecloth. Gather edges of cheesecloth together; tie securely. Add cheesecloth bag, broth, beans, and tomatoes to vegetable mixture; stir to combine. Return sausages to pan; stir. Bring mixture to a boil, and remove from heat.
4. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until fine crumbs measure 2 cups. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add crumbs to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over bean mixture. Bake at 325° for 40 minutes. Discard cheesecloth bag before serving.