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 2nd, 2009

A Simple Autumn Supper

hero overshot pork

Now is the ideal time for these good things: pork and sage and honey poached pears and roasted sweet potatoes.

Have you ever grown sweet potatoes?

Earlier this summer, I found one abandoned in the back of my pantry that had sprouted and thought I might try my hand at it.

Following some instruction I found online, I submerged my forsaken one in a bowl of water. After a couple of days, the sprouts leafed out and had the makings of vines. I carefully snapped off these baby vines, (called “slips”) and placed them into a water-filled jar to root.

Again, growing quickly, threadlike roots formed, making 5 individual sweet potato plants. Over the 4th of July holiday, I moved them into their new home at The Hooper Garden. They grew vigorously, suffering only one setback of bunny munching, a tangle of vines competing for space with the wiley watermelon.

Last week a tinge of frost blackened many of the leaves, alerting me that it was time to harvest.

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It became a treasure hunt; I had no idea how these tubers grow, nor how deep! So, I began my cautious dig for these buried treasures, (thinking about the truffle seekers!) following the viney trail and its vast underground network of roots. What a wonder–there were lots of them, some GIGANTIC, some regular, some baby sized.

Nature offers some pretty incredible returns—here’s the math:
One sprouted tuber produced Five plants produced Twenty-five sweet potatoes. Impressive.

Looks like I’ll be making lots of sweet potato treats!

For my initial use, I wanted to make it a part of a simple autumn supper.

I generally don’t eat much pork, but I had a piece of boneless loin, a thick medallion that I had gotten from West Wind Farms. It seemed a natural to companion it with roasted sweet potato slices and my honey-poached pears. The sage plant on my front steps is flourishing, another cool weather cuisine associate, which I like to place directly onto the pork and sauté. Crispy sage leaves are delicious.

pork-pear ingredients

This entire meal takes about thirty minutes to put together. Roasting discs of sweet potatoes couldn’t be simpler—just lay them out on a baking pan, brush with a little olive oil, dust with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes in a hot oven, say 425 degrees.

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True, these are odd shaped. I had to cut away a blemish or two.

While the sweet potatoes roast, you can pan-fry the pork. After I rinse off the meat and pat it dry, I rub it with olive oil. Then, I place the sage leaves directly onto the meat, salt and pepper it, and then dust it in flour.

I heat some more olive oil with a little butter in a skillet. When that is heated, butter bubbly, put in the pork. I cook it about 7 minutes a side, let it brown, then flip and repeat. After it’s cooked, I deglaze the pan with some water, stirring the cooked-on bits. The small residue of flour will help this to slightly thicken.

in the skillet

Remember those honey-poached pears? Gently warm those on the stovetop.

Now, to assemble your plate:
Start with the sweet potato discs as your base.
Place the cooked pork medallion on top.
Spoon over the warmed pears.
Drizzle with your deglazed brown sauce.
Garnish with fresh sage.
Eat.

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And enjoy!

a good dinner

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 11 Comments »