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You won’t guess where I went last week, because it was Cleveland. On the road for work plus a fast visit to show off baby to the in-laws. Eating adventures weren’t on the agenda ’til my intrepid husband spotted a smoker in his sister’s garage, a nice red Brinkman that her hunter husband uses to smoke ducks.
Enter a farmer’s market deep in lettuces, radishes, and beets, and the plot thickened. Strawberries were in. You could smell them as you walked past the tables. But being low on cash, I allocated my scarce resources towards a hunk of pork shoulder instead. The source: Bluebird Meadow Farm, of Sullivan, Ohio, which raises lean Hampshire and Yorkshire pigs on pasture.
Next move was to ditch out on my meeting and get a dry rub going for the meat. Day two, the husband loaded said smoker with hickory chips, slow smoked the meat for the better part of a day, and it’s hard to argue with the results. The finer points of vinegar mops and sweet vs. spicy barbeque sauces I leave to those with more skin in the game.
Recipe: Smoked Pulled Pork
1 tbls cumin / 1 tbls salt / 1 tbls black pepper / 1 tbls chile powder / 1 tbls cayenne / 1 tbls brown sugar / 2 tbls paprika / 3 lbs pork shoulder
Combine spices and rub generously on pork shoulder, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. The following day, dust off your smoker and smoke shoulder over hickory chunks for two hours, fat side up, then wrap in foil and continue slow cooking until internal temperature reaches 185-195 degrees. Meat should pull apart easily. Serve on a soft bun with sauce of choice and coleslaw on the side.
A long holiday weekend entertaining dinner guests, baby still not sleeping well (still!), and I was out of steam. More time in the kitchen genuinely did not appeal. But we had to eat, as these things go, and to help things along was a half-carved leftover ham in the fridge. Hearty soups like split pea or white bean were one idea, but the timing seemed wrong for a warm, sunny evening before a week of forecast rain. Lasagne with ham, mushroom, and ricotta sounded tasty, but too much of a process. Chinese food? I didn’t have the energy to think about it.
That’s a lengthy process of elimination to get to this pasta, which cooks quickly and gently and makes use of a few things available locally or in the garden right now. That it’s tasty — the cream picks up a nice hit of smoke from the ham — was our good luck, and it was lovely with leftover wine, a nice Chenin Blanc from Washington state vintner L’Ecole No. 41.
Green garlic is around for just a short time in late spring, so there’s not a lot of opportunity for trial and error, at least not in a kitchen like mine, where the emphasis right now is on getting people fed. I used small young bulbs and their leaves, which are often compared to leeks in flavor and attitude. The stem was hot and garlicky, and I chopped it into the compost pile instead.
Pasta with Ham, Peas, and Green Garlic
½ pound pasta such as farfalle / 2-3 bulbs young garlic plus green leaves / 2 tbls butter / ½ cup smoky ham, cut into slivers / ½ cup shelled green peas / ½ cup cream / salt & pepper to taste / shredded Parmesan cheese to taste
Boil salted water, cook pasta, and drain. Meanwhile heat a skillet over medium heat. Mince the young garlic bulbs. Cut garlic leaves in thin slices.
Melt butter gently in pan, swirl, then add minced garlic bulbs and ham. Ham will become warm and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add peas and cream and cook until slightly reduced, 3-5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with cooked pasta, Parmesan, and sliced garlic leaves, and serve immediately. Feeds 2.
Ah, nesting. For some it involves setting up the crib and painting the nursery. Sewing cute baby quilts. Scrubbing the house down and making way for all the gear that comes with modern babies.
Over here, it’s been a cooking frenzy instead.
But who can help it? There’s so much that’s good and plentiful in the garden right now. I made quarts of our favorite Bolognese sauce, using orange paste tomatoes plus handfuls of fresh oregano, thyme, parsley, and basil. Pints of bread and butter pickles for eating with burgers. A lovely green sauce from ripe tomatillos, for enchiladas and similar fare. I cured a big slab of pork belly guanciale, which will make its way into pastas, soups, and stews all winter long.
And because they make me so happy, I assembled and froze multiple batches of my grandmother’s wonton, using pot sticker filling. These we’ll drop into steaming broth and eat with chopped greens and minced scallions for easy cool weather nourishment.
I even peeled, cored, and froze pears for use as baby food down the road. It feels like storing acorns for winter.
Surely we’d be fine without any of it. We’ve been ready for weeks for this new creature to arrive, so the bustle in the kitchen feels more like a diversion, something to distract me from thoughts of just how dramatically life is about to change. One thing that I’m guessing will stay the same: we’ll like having tasty local and homegrown food in the weeks and months to come.
Recipe: Bolognese Meat Sauce
I’ve made this sauce for countless friends in the throes of new parenthood.
1 large onion, minced / 2 carrots, minced / 2 stalks celery, minced / 2 lbs ground beef and/or pork / 1 cup milk / pinch of nutmeg / 1 cup white wine / 6 cups skinless paste tomatoes / a generous quantity fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, and basil, minced / salt & pepper
Warm a heavy pot over medium heat. Swirl in 1 tbls vegetable oil and add onion, carrots, and celery, cooking over medium heat until softened, about 8 minutes. Add ground meat, ¼ tsp salt, a few grindings of pepper, and cook until browned. Add milk and nutmeg and cook until liquid is essentially gone. Add wine and cook until liquid is essentially gone. Add tomatoes and herbs, bring to a slow boil, then turn down heat and cook over low for 3 hours or until flavors melt together richly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over spaghetti noodles, garnished with Parmesan cheese and fresh minced parsley if desired. Freezes great. Adapted from Marcella Hazan. Feeds 8-10.
About a year after the arrival of our half-pig and six months from the most recent beef delivery, we’ve still got a decent supply of meat on hand. But the cuts are less and less familiar as we go. No surprise, I suppose. We’ve got ten pounds of pork belly, for example, that I’d intended to cure, nitrates and all. Didn’t happen, and here we are now with pork belly that’s old old old.
So I scouted alternative ways with the cut, looking specifically for preparations that may not depend so particularly on fresh, pliant pork. Brined and roasted the way Fergus Henderson does it was one thought, but this old Hangzhou preparation intrigued me more — it seemed like exactly thing to melt down long-frozen meat (and fat) into one tasty, rich dish.
The number of different takes on the recipe, from cooks all over the world, made me think I could probably take my liberties. I used Eileen Fei-Lo’s recipe as a base, adding just a little bit of star anise and a cinnamon stick to cook down with the meat. It comes out rich enough that a thin slab is all you need, so rich that you’ll want to eat it with plain steamed rice and plain steamed vegetables; a few weeks back I used kale raab from the garden.
Braised Pork Belly with Star Anise
1½ lbs pork belly / 8 chive stems or 1 foot lengths of kitchen twine / 2 cups chicken broth / 2 cups water / 3 tbls shao xing wine or sherry / 2 tbls brown sugar / 1 inch slice ginger root / 1 stick cinnamon / 1 star anise / 2 tbls dark soy sauce / 1 clove garlic, bruised
Cut pork belly into 4-inch x 1-inch squares. Tie each piece like a present using chive stems, to keep layers from falling apart during cooking. Place belly packages, broth, water, wine or sherry, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and star anise in a medium sized pot. Bring liquid to a boil then add soy sauce. Turn heat down to low and cook at a simmer for 3 hours. Add garlic and cook until pork is tender and fat melts to the touch, about 1 hour more. Carefully remove pork packages and reserve. Skim fat if you desire. Bring liquid to a boil and cook at a steady heat until liquid is somewhat thickened. Return pork to the pot to warm through, then serve over plain rice.
Three o’clock on Easter afternoon, and I’m in a standoff with a ham roast. Am I supposed to boil the thing, bake it, or merely heat it through? Should there be a glaze? I’d done a couple of hams before but couldn’t remember, so it was time to do some digging. Luckily this is something you can figure out by piecing together a few basic clues.
For starters, if the wrapper says “cooked”, then you just heat through and serve. If the wrapper says, “cook before eating”, or something like it, then cook to an internal temperature of 140-160 degrees. If a sliver of ham is super salty when you fry it, then oops, you’ve got country ham and need to soak it in cold water overnight before proceeding. Otherwise, so long as it’s pink, you can assume the ham’s been smoked and/or quick cured and in need of cooking.
The latest round of deep freezer diving elicited a long lost package of pork chops from last year’s half-pig. Can’t say I recommend eating pork that old — the taste was reminiscent of more than one defrost cycle — but the cooked, gingered apples eaten on the side were memorable, especially after so much pork with plum chutney this winter. A bonus is that most everything except the ginger is available locally right now.
Pork Chops with Gingered Apples
2 pork chops, bone in / salt & pepper / 2 tbls butter / 2 tsp ginger, minced / ½ onion, minced / 1 medium sweet, firm apple such as Braeburn of Fiji, peeled, cored, and sliced / 3 tbls apple juice / 3 tbls rice wine vinegar / ¼ cup chicken stock / ¼ cup white wine / 1 tbls parsley, minced
The day before, sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper, cover, and refrigerate overnight. When ready to cook, bring pork chops to room temperature. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon butter. Cook pork chops until well-browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Remove chops.
Add a second tablespoon of butter to pan plus ginger, onion, and apple. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Pour in apple juice and vinegar and cook another 3 minutes, scraping up browned bits on bottom. Add stock and wine and reduce liquid by about one-half, then stir in parsley, turn heat down to low, and cook 3 minutes more until flavors are combined. Serve immediately over chops.
While plumbing the depths of the basement freezer recently I came upon a long lost package of ground pork from last year’s half-pig. It was sort of like being granted one wish by a genie. I knew exactly what I wanted — my grandmother’s pot stickers — but couldn’t find the old recipe I’d written down years ago. Cookbooks jogged my memory just enough, and the process, which is fairly labor-intensive, might help to explain the recipe’s mysterious disappearance. Nevertheless the finished product reminded me why they’re oh so worth it. Fried and steamed, these puppies are so good, and gone so quickly.
Filling: 1 lb ground pork / ½ cup napa cabbage, steamed and minced / ¼ cup fresh bamboo, minced / ¼ cup shrimp, minced / 3 tbls mushrooms, minced / 2 tbls scallions, minced / 3 tbls soy sauce / 1 tbls cornstarch or arrowroot / 1 tsp sesame oil / 1 tsp rice vinegar / 1 tsp salt or to taste
50-75 potsticker or gyoza wrappers
Dipping Sauce: ¼ cup soy sauce / 3 tbls water / 2 tbls rice vinegar / 1 tsp chili paste, or to taste
Combine all of the filling ingredients and let sit for 10 minutes so flavors combine, or refrigerate for up to 12 hours. If desired, fry up a small meatball to check your seasonings and adjust as needed.
Fill a shallow cup with water. Place an individual wrapper on a smooth surface and place 1 generous teaspoon of filling at the center of the wrapper. Dipping fingers into the cup, moisten the edge of the wrapper and fold in half, sealing the edges to make a half-moon, then take the package in hand, moisten the rounded edge and fold in four pleats, pinching the dough together so the potsticker looks roughly like the above photo. Repeat until all pork is used up; makes 4 to 6 dozen.
Mix dipping sauce ingredients in a ramekin.
Frying: heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl vegetable oil in the pan. Place potstickers upright in pan — there should be plenty of room, with no touching — and fry for about a minute until the bottoms turn golden. Pour in 1 cup water and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium and cover, steaming about 7 minutes to cook pork. Uncover and boil off any remaining liquid, allowing potstickers to crisp on the bottom. Lift carefully with a spatula and serve with dipping sauce.
Freeze any potstickers you don’t use right away. You can add the frozen stickers straight to a hot oiled pan. Steam these for about 10 minutes to fully cook.
There we were, grounded at Newark, watching helplessly as the day’s last flight to Seattle backed out of the jetway. And the situation was about to get worse. The man at the Continental Airlines counter peered deeply into his computer screen and said, “Air traffic control issue, ma’am. It isn’t our responsibility.” He handed me new boarding passes and $30 worth of meal vouchers. The airline was paying for us to spend the night in the terminal.
While I enjoy a good argument as much as the next person, I came to my senses pretty quickly. In short order Charlie had us booked into a nearby hotel, and we were scheming to hop the train to New York and eat ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar. How long had I been salivating over chef David Chang and his myriad ways with pork? Our timing, which had been very bad all day, was now on the upswing: we arrived in the East Village around 10 pm and slid right into a couple of seats at the bar. While we munched happily on steamed buns stuffed with roasted pork belly, I deliberated over every dish on the menu, finally opting for the house ramen with crispy strands of pork shoulder, more belly, pickled vegetables, and a soft- poached egg.
The ramen came in a deep bowl with dark, steaming broth. Oh, sweet Jesus.
Just about then our friend Frank walked into the place — we’d phoned him between the hotel and train station — and greeted us warmly. He said, “The best pasticceria in New York is just around the corner, and it’s still open. But not for much longer. ”
“Seriously? The one with those piles of cookies in the window?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That one.” Frank, a third-generation Italian-American, was on pins and needles. He glanced at his watch.
We were out the door and over to Veniero’s pasticceria just in time, munching sfogliatelle for dessert. In the end it was one of the more expensive bowls of $16 ramen a person might opt for, once you add in train and cab fare, five hours in a hotel, and an extra night of dog sitting. But I’m almost inclined to say it was worth it. And it was a small, good thing to tuck into those creamy canolis this morning, not so long after we reached cruising altitude.
My friend Alice hadn’t used any of the ham roasts from her half-pig and she thought it was time to get her game on. She opted for simple, baking the cured ham to an internal temp of 140, then roasting at higher heat with a mustard and brown sugar glaze. The roast came out juicy and incredibly flavorful, this one being a Wooly Pigs’ Berkshire-Mangalitsa mix, with no need for sauce or other adornment. Extras that came home in a doggy bag got fried up for breakfast and chopped into my beloved old standby, spicy fried rice. Sorry, doggies. Alice herself seemed mainly interested in the hambone, which she saved for split pea soup. Yum. Leftovers.
Yesterday’s housecleaning binge took me down to the basement and into the chest freezer, and soon enough I was sidelined curing pork fatback, which is known as lardo every place without fat-phobia. I’ve been meaning to get on this one for weeks, since we’re about out of the original batch, which began curing in March.
That batch turned me into a fervent convert, a believer in the wonders my chef friend Evan promised it would deliver. Just a few thin slices give wonderful depth to sauces and soups, including New England specials like fish chowder. I’ve rendered it as cooking grease and found that when sauteed over slow heat with garlic and shallots, it contributes tremendous flavor. And the cure has only gotten better with age. It is so loved by my adventurous friends, who eat thin shavings right from the block, that I may have to give some away at Christmas. And it’s so embarrassingly simple that I’d keep the recipe secret, but I’m liable to forget what I did in the first place. So here it is:
1 lb pork fatback, a single piece is preferable / scant ¼ cup table salt / 3 tbls brown sugar / several grindings black pepper / 2 x 4″ sprigs rosemary, minced / 1 tbls minced fresh thyme / 1 bay laurel leaf, ground
Rinse fatback in cool water and and pat dry. In a mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Coat fatback with cure mixture and wrap tightly in a plastic bag, then wrap bag in a sheet of newspaper (as light will degrade the fat). Weigh with a 5-pound weight and refrigerate. Lardo is ready to use in 4 to 6 weeks, or when the fat feels firm. Adapted from Evan Mallett.