I love sausage. I like bacon and I enjoy a nice steak, but sausage, fresh, cured whatever, I loves it. Like the lyrics to the old Patty Duke Show provocatively warn, "a hot dog makes her lose control," sausages have similar effects on me. Rivaled perhaps only by ham, sausage is more than welcome in any meal from breakfast to dinner. Eggs with sausage? Of course. Pizza with sausage? Obviously. Lentils with sausage? Heaven. A plank of charcuterie? Don't get me started.
As much as I love sausage, I'll be the first to admit my ignorance on the subject. The fresh sausages I'm most familiar with are the traditional sweet or spicy Italian ones and German Bratwurst. I enthusiastically devoured a lot of really interesting sausage whilst in England (duck, pork with ginger and scallions), and recall seeing Toulouse Sausages for sale I believe at the farmers market we went to in Paris, but I never had the opportunity to try them. A while back, Sam over at Becks and Posh did a post on the Toulouse sausage that she gets from a bay area store specializing in charcuterie called The Fatted Calf. My interest was further piqued. Then when I was back home for Thanksgiving, Mark and I were at Barnes and Noble and while flipping through the November 2006 issue of Olive Magazine, there they were again - Toulouse Sausage and Butter Bean Casserole. What are these Toulouse sausages and what makes them so special?
I was determined to find some. I phoned a butcher at the Farmers Market supposedly specializing in sausage. He'd never heard of them. Fools! Why can't this be easy? I mean, I live in Los Angeles. Then I thought of Monsieur Marcel's, also at the Farmers Market. They tend to have almost every hard to find gourmet or imported food product. I gave them a ring and sure enough, they had some. I zipped over but was a little disappointed to discover that the person I spoke with on the phone neglected to inform me that the sausages were frozen. I hesitated briefly, but wound up getting them anyway.
According to the list of ingredients, the Toulouse sausages are made with pork, white wine, onions and seasoned with salt pepper, allspice, nutmeg, coriander and caraway. Apparently they are often used in the popular French dish know as "cassoulet," which is a long cooked dish featuring beans, sausage, and usually duck or goose confit. This recipe seems to be a simplified/bastardized version of a cassoulet,
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 Toulouse sausages
3 strips of bacon, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small leeks, sliced and cleaned
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup of white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 14-ounce cans of butter beans
1/4 to 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat for two minutes. (The pot I used was probably too deep. You could easily do this in a large saute pan or a 3 quart pot) Pour in enough oil to lightly coat the bottom and when it begins to smoke, add the sausages. Brown on each side for 2 to 4 minutes. You will likely need to do this in two batches.
Remove the browned sausages and cut into bit sized chunks. They should still be rare inside. To give it more of a rustic look, I cut on the diagonal, give the link a 1/4 turn and then another cut on the diagonal, continuing down the length of the sausage.
Add the chopped bacon, thyme and red pepper flakes to the pan and stir to coat with the oil. Cook for about 4 minutes until the bacon is almost crispy. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the leeks and sliced garlic and cook until softened, about another 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any bacon bits. Season with a little black pepper.
Add the wine and chicken stock and further deglaze the pan. Return the sausage and any juices that have collected back to the pot. Crank the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the beans and simmer until they are warmed through and the stew has thickened a little, about 5 more minutes.
Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Ladle into wide shallow bowls and serve with some warm grilled or crusty bread.
This dish is the epitome of comfort food, though not in the nostalgic meatloaf with mac'n'cheese sense. The flavors are so warm and inviting. I wish it had been snowing and that I had a fireplace. The plump butter beans are rich and creamy and the mildly flavored Toulouse sausage, tangled with rings of soft leek, soaks up the winey broth, infused with smoky bacon, woodsy thyme and the surprising kick of the red pepper flakes. I love the sliced garlic, as opposed to minced, its brashness mellowed from poaching in the broth. It's a very hearty stew, perfect for cooler weather. I served it with a simple salad of organic green which I dressed with some leftover garlic confit vinaigrette. Even though I suggest it above, I did not serve the stew with any bread, however next time I will make sure to. The contrast in textures between the stew and the crackly crust of a thick slice of baguette is the only thing that cold possibly improve this meal.
One good thing about this recipe is that it works well as a make ahead meal. Mark and I had plans to go to shoe shopping at The Grove (so pretty at the holidays) after he got off work so I wanted to have something ready for us when we got back. Earlier in the afternoon I did everything up through simmering the sausages in the broth. I then just poured in the beans, turned off the heat, covered the pot, and left it on the stove. I didn't want the beans to break down too much in the stew and get mushy. Once we returned home, I just brought it back up to a simmer for a couple minutes and then shut it back off, stirred through the parsley and served. Easy and oh so delicious.