April 7th, 2014

Spring Supper: Fennel braised Pork, Beets-and-Blue Salad

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One Sunday last spring when we were visiting our friends in Rome, we had the good fortune to accompany them on an outing to the small municipality, Pisoniano, a fifty minute drive east of the Eternal City. Their good friends had invited us to spend the day. Our host, Serge, an architect, had been born in this charming hill town. He knew everyone, and held the title as its unofficial mayor.

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This particular Sunday felt magical. On this sun-filled day, the town was celebrating L’ Infiorata, or Flower Art Festival. Through the center of the main street ran a long series of “organic mosaics.” Each one was a vibrantly colored image or symbol of Christian faith created out of flower petals, stems, and seeds. Townspeople and visitors such as ourselves, families and friends, gathered to spend the afternoon enjoying the art and fellowship.

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Each intricate image was connected to next, forming a brilliant carpet over the cobbles–a carpet you dared not step on! As meticulous and ephemeral as Tibetan sand paintings, each work was a collaborative effort created over thirty-six hours leading up to the festival. No doubt, there were many months in preparation.

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After we spent time strolling the flower carpet sidelines, examining each tableau, astonished by the color, texture, and attention to detail, we all went to lunch at Trattoria Bacco. This was no ordinary meal, but one that had been designed by the chefs in keeping with the season and the celebration. Our multi-coursed luncheon began around 1pm and lasted for three hours!

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We began our leisurely meal with a plate of antipasta: folds of prosciutto over melon, wrinkled pungent olives, a whip of ricotta, bites of radish. The pacing of service was slow and deliberate. It allowed for lively conversation–eight of us at a community dining table– and time to savor each dish.

We were able to enjoy our company and each course without feeling stuffed–well, at least, not until the end. The servers brought platters of house made ravioli cloaked in red sauce, followed by Tonnarelli alla Verdure, a Roman square-cut egg pasta tossed with seasonal green vegetables: spinach, artichoke, scallions, and small peas.

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The supper’s centerpiece was a pork dish, Coscio di Maiale, a fresh ham long simmered in a wealth of garlic, bay leaf, and fennel seeds. Fresh rosemary and thyme were also in the mix, playing background roles.

The meat was sumptuous; juicy and fatty in its fragrant brown gravy. It was that trio–garlic, bay leaf and toasted fennel seeds, remarkable in combination, assertive in amount, that made the pork shine.

Inspiration! I knew that I would have to make this when I returned home.

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I haven’t recreated the dish perfectly, not yet.

A fresh ham is not always available at our market, and this cut, with its bones, rich meat and layers of fat, is key to the dish. For my first try, I used a different cut, the sirloin tip. No bones, little fat. Nonetheless, the pork was delicious. And, the gravy, the result of browning then braising hunks of pork with that trio, came close to my remembrance. What a pleasure to have the connection of food, place, and memory: spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon, in the company of family and friends, at the table, doing as the Romans do.

Quantities for both pork and salad recipes are for a large group—10 to 15. With spring here at last, you might be having family and friends over to celebrate. Take time on a Sunday afternoon to relax and dine and visit.

Also, with beets being such a versatile vegetable for spring and fall, be sure to check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Beets for care, storage, growing, and preparation.

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PORK BRAISED WITH GARLIC, BAY LEAF, AND TOASTED FENNEL SEED
8 lb. boneless pork roast, such as sirloin tip
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
coarse ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bulb (8-10 cloves) garlic, peeled and sliced
4-5 bay leaves
4 tablespoons fennel seed, lightly toasted
sprig or 2 of rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Rub the oil all over the piece(s) of meat. Liberally season with salt and black pepper.

Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Brown the meat on all sides, rotating the piece(s) every 5 minutes. This could take 15-20 minutes.
When the meat is almost finished browning, add the sliced garlic. Continue to cook for 3 minutes, then dust the flour over the meat.
Rotate the piece(s) around in the pan, so that the flour browns a bit.

Pour in water–2-3 cups—enough to almost cover the meat. Stir, loosening up the browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot.
Plunge in the bay leaves, fennel seed, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes.
Cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Let the pork cook, undisturbed, for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Remove the meat and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

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Increase the heat on the pot to medium high, stirring the remaining sauce, allowing it to reduce and slightly thicken.
Slice the meat and pour the sauce over it. Pour extra sauce into a gravy boat or bowl.

Delicious with roasted potatoes or rice.

Makes 12-15 servings

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BEETS AND BLUE SALAD
1/2 pound spring lettuces
3 ruby beets, roasted, peeled and chilled
2 oranges or 4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Place a layer of lettuces on a platter. Slice the beets and arrange over the lettuces, followed by a ring of sliced citrus, and red onion.
Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese. Repeat the layering.

Drizzle with Sweet Heat Dressing and serve.

Serves 8-10

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SWEET HEAT DRESSING
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup olive oil

Place all of the ingredients into a pint jar. Screw on the lid tightly and shake well. Drizzle over the salad.
Serves 8-10

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Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads | 18 Comments »




November 25th, 2013

Grateful for Autumn Greens

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Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.

Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.

Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!

Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.

Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.

Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!

After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.

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Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.

Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.

I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)

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The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.

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A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.

In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.

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HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces

Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.

Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.

Makes 8-10 servings

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WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS
adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.

Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.

Makes 8 servings

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »