This delayed-gratification recipe eventually serves eight. 1 pound raw great northern beans 1 carrot 1 large onion with 2 cloves stuck in each end Bouquet garni: 1 sprig fresh thyme, 3 sprigs fresh parsley, 1 large clove garlic 1/2 pound salt pork Freshly ground pepper, to taste For the meat: 1 pound Italian sausage 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 3 pounds lamb shanks 2 onions, with 2 cloves stuck in each end Bouquet garni: 1 sprig fresh thyme, 3 sprigs fresh parsley, 2 cloves garlic For finishing: 1 pound bacon 3 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and quartered and tossed in 2 tablespoons lemon juice Freshly ground black pepper, to taste Salt, to taste 3 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
Rinse and pick over beans. Cover beans with 2 inches of water and soak overnight. Place in heavy pot with soaking liquid, carrot, onion, bouquet garni, salt pork and ground pepper. Simmer very slowly until beans are done (about 2 hours).
In a large, heavy soup pot, brown sausage in oil and remove from pan. Brown lamb shanks in the same pot. Return sausage to the pot with the lamb and add onions, bouquet garni and water to come halfway up the meat (about 3 cups). Simmer 1 hour.
Drain beans. Discard carrot, onion, bouquet garni and salt pork. Remove lamb and sausage from cooking liquid. Reserve cooking liquid from the meats; slice sausage in 1/2-inch rounds.
Line a heavy, ovenproof casserole with bacon. Place half the beans in the bottom of the pot. Top that with half the cooked meat and six apple quarters. Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper, half the thyme and a moderate amount of salt. Repeat with a second layor of beans, meat, apples. Season with more black pepper, fresh thyme and cover with bacon slices. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Degrease meat-cooking liquid and pour evenly over casserole (should have about 2 cups) and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours.
NOTE: You can substitute dried thyme for fresh. Use half the amount indicated -- for example, 11/2 tbsp. instead of 3; 1 or 11/2 tsp. instead of a sprig in the bouquet garni. Or, stay home one weekend and plant your own herb garden.