Many home cooks get gun-shy when it comes to French food, having neither the time nor expertise to execute a multi-pan exercise in precision. Yet as Wini Moranville makes clear in her new book, “The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day,” Americans needn’t be afraid of French cooking. They just need to learn the bonne femme style. With a focus on fresh, tasty ingredients and a generosity of spirit, this is French cooking without fuss or fear. Now that the typical bonne femme works outside of the home just like her American counterpart (and now that French men, like their American frères, are often in charge of getting dinner on the table), Moranville’s emphasis is on easy techniques and speedy preparation in a book which shows everyday chefs that it’s possible to feast like the French, without breaking the bank or spending all day in the kitchen. A sterling example of how her recipes reflect the way real French families eat today is this Pork and White Bean Cassoulet Ce Soir, an any night stove-top take on cassoulet, the famous southwestern-France stew of white beans simmered with sausage, pork, and duck confit. While not the three-day extravaganza of a true cassoulet, this version is nevertheless a perfect expression of the book’s everyday spirit. I tried it this weekend so I can promise you it offers a good helping of the warmth and comfort that cassoulet brings – easily done in just a day. With a crusty loaf of bread and a spicy bottle of Gigondas, it proved the perfect foil to the coming threat of snow.
2 cups dried Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over
8 cups water
2 to 2 1/2 pounds bone-in country-style pork ribs, cut in half crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, crushed
1/2 cup dry sherry
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
12 ounces sweet Italian sausage links, cut crosswise into six pieces
1. Soak the beans in the water overnight; drain and set aside. (Or, place the beans and the water in a large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and set aside.)
2. Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the ribs and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes Transfer to a plate. Cook the bacon in the pan until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.
3. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the bell pepper and onion and cook, stirring, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and herbes de Provence and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the sherry and return the pan to the heat. Bring to a boil and boil, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the sherry is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the beans, bacon, chicken broth, and drained tomatoes to the Dutch oven; top with the ribs. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover tightly, and simmer for about 1 hour (the ribs will not quite be done at this point).
5. After the ribs have cooked for about 45 minutes, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage pieces, turning as needed to brown evenly, for about 5 minutes (the sausage will not be cooked through at this point).
6. After the ribs have cooked for 1 hour, add the sausage pieces to the Dutch oven, pushing them down into the stew so that they are submerged. Bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the sausage is cooked through, the ribs are nearly tender, and the beans are tender, about 15 minutes more.
7. Uncover the pot and increase the heat so that the stew comes to an active simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced, the ribs are tender, and the stew has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
8. Serve in wide, shallow bowls, with a piece of sausage, a piece of pork, and plenty of beans in each bowl.