“The version that I have been making for a few years is one I found on the internet and sadly am not able to credit because I have not been able to find it again. It is far superior to many versions I have found because it is packed with an interesting combination of vegetables and legumes. I would advise that the cheese and breadcrumbs are optional because it tastes so good without them, but I do enjoy the creaminess when they are stirred in. It will not appeal to those who don’t like chopping veggies but once the veggies are prepared there isn’t much else to do apart from a little stirring. The leftovers are usually better than the first serving.”

1 tbsp oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 medium eggplant, chopped
150g mushrooms, chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped
3 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp mixed dried herbs (eg rosemary, sage, thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 glass white wine
¼ pint (about 150ml) vegetable stock
1 can cannellini beans, drained (or other white beans)
125g red lentils
5 tbsp chopped parsley
175g parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
175g breadcrumbs (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Serves 6-8

Heat oil in a large stockpot (preferably an ovenproof one like my Le Creuset stockpot) over low heat and add onions, garlic and fennel. Cook, stirring frequently for 20-30 minutes or until browned. While the onions brown, chop up the remaining vegetables.

Add carrots, celery, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, tomato puree, mixed herbs, bay leaf, white wine, stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beans and lentils and simmer for about 10 minutes.

If your stockpot isn’t ovenproof, transfer to a large casserole dish. Scatter cassoulet with a mixture of parsley, parmesan and breadcrumbs. (You can keep some aside for later if you wish.) Place casserole dish or ovenproof stockpot in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes at about 350F-400F.

Remove dish from oven and use a wooden spoon to break the crust and stir into cassoulet. If you wish, you could scatter with some reserved parmesan and breadcrumbs mixture after stirring. Return to the oven for about 20 minutes. This time is fairly flexible and could be extended if you wanted to try breaking the crust seven times! John Whiting advises it is best if made a day ahead and the leftovers were definitely excellent!