I think of French dishes like boyfriends. I remember asking "grown-ups" how they knew they'd met the loves of their lives. They'd always say something cheesy like, "You just know." I'd roll my eyes. That's ridiculous.
And then, last summer, I met cassoulet. Brawny, rich but humble, supportive, with an excellent lineage and a bright future. It's what the French call a coup de foudre—love at first bite. And I just knew. Cassoulet is my favorite French dish. Bouillabaisse. Bourguignon. Gigot à Sept Heures. All just flings! Every moment that I'm away from cassoulet, I'm thinking about it.
I was lucky enough to spend last summer outside of Toulouse near the famous birthplace of cassoulet: Castelnaudary. Cassoulet, if you haven't yet become acquainted, is a simple, hearty dish from the southwest of France made of duck, goose, or pork confit; garlicky sausage; pork; white beans; and breadcrumbs. It's life-altering, despite its simplicity. Despite the summer heat, or perhaps in amorous defiance of it, I ate cassoulet every other night, forgetting waistline, expense, and all common decency. I ate it out of a can and I ate it at the best restaurants. And now, so far away from it, I can't stop craving, and wishing, and hoping, and dreaming about it.
Here's my quick fix: white beans flavored with smoky bacon, sausage drippings, herbs, garlic, and wine, crowned with sausage and super-flavorful breadcrumbs. I bake it for 20 minutes, and dive in. Not quite cassoulet, but close enough to the real thing that I can stop crying for one meal.