One of Languedoc’s best-known culinary specialities is cassoulet, a magnificent dish with age-old origins. A product of Castelnaudary, 36km west of Carcassone, it was apparently first concocted when the town was besieged by Edward, the Black Prince, during the Hundred Years war and was deemed so sustaining that the townspeople not only survived, but put the English to rout. According to tradition it would be assembled in a deep earthenware bowl, the cassole, from which the dish takes its name, and taken to the village bread oven, where it would slowly transform to an unctuous, aromatic masterpiece. Little has changed through the ensuing centuries: the bread ovens have gone, and a few cosmopolitan ingredients have found their way into the mix, but essentially the dish is the same, and so is the method. Although Castelnaudry is universally accepted as the home of the original recipe, both Toulouse and Carcassonne have their own varieties. It’s essentially just a form of the beans and bones stew that’s found all over southern Europe; in this case the beans should be the local Tarbais, grown around Pamiers, Pau and Tarbes. Castelnaudry purists insist on duck or goose confit, Toulouse sausage and a little pork. In Toulouse they include mutton, and, crucially, a breadcrumb crust. Carcassonne eschews the confit and frequently adds a partridge or similar game bird. The locals have long been arguing over their various interpretations, but the salient fact remains, this is one of the great peasant dishes of France.

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