Monthly Archives: March 2014

The “Cure” for What Ails You: Pancetta!

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I’ve been wanting to dabble in charcuterie for years. The biggest hurdle I had was the shortage of one cool, humid location to cure a substantial hunk of meat. There aren’t basements in California like there are in my beloved New England (Dear Family & Friends: I pray the overabundance of snow and cold you’ve experienced this winter ceases well before opening day April 4th); therefore, my options for such a location were limited to nada. That was until Roger and I embarked on big a four day home improvement project over Thanksgiving break: a genuine wine closet with humidity control and everything! I’m sure you can imagine his dismay when I told him AFTER we finished the closet that I’ll need a teeny tiny corner for curing meat and potentially cheeses 🙂

Because, sadly, we don’t have a Farmer Hogget nearby, I had to resort to calling our nearby Whole Foods last week (the store in our town is the size of a postage stamp so you MUST preorder something like this) and request a 5-pound pork belly “harvested” from an organic and hormone/antibiotic free swine ($7.99 a pound). For those of you who don’t know, pork belly is in fact located where its name implies: the belly of a pig, which is uber popular and tasty in Chinese and Korean cuisines. Charcuterie is primarily made with pig and includes, but is not limited to: salami, bacon, sausages, terrines, and pâtés.

Because curing takes some time, I’m going to walk you through the process in steps. This post is going to cover the seasoning and curing in the fridge for 7-9 days. I began the refridgerator portion of the curing process 6 days ago and it feels as though my belly might be ready for stringing and hanging either Friday or Saturday.

Here’s what you’ll need (recipe courtesy of Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn):

  • 1 5-pound slab pork belly (skin removed)
  •  4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp/12 grams of pink curing salt
  • 2 ounces/50 grams of kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp/26 grams of dark brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp/40 grams coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp/10 grams juniper berries, crushed with the bottom of a small pan
  • 4 crumbled bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp/4 grams freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 or 5 sprigs of thyme (You’ll need to pull the leaves off of the stems. Drudgery)
  • A large 2-gallon Ziploc bag or a in a non-reactive container. I used a turkey brining bag.
Clean up your belly by getting rid of any loose pieces.

Clean up your belly by getting rid of any loose pieces.

Trim until you have a neat square with tight edges.

Trim until you have a neat square with tight edges.

Get all of your ingredients chopped, grated, etc. Note that I still haven't removed the thyme leaves from the branches. I HATE that job.

Get all of your ingredients chopped, grated, etc. Note that I still haven’t removed the thyme leaves from the branches. I HATE that job.

Get it all into a large bowl and mix. Hopefully an elf will come along and take care of that thyme.

Get it all into a large bowl and mix. Hopefully an elf will come along and take care of your thyme.

It's done.

No elf. Had to do the job myself. Done.

Rub it all over one side.

Rub it all over one side.

Flip and repeat.

Flip and repeat.

Place in the bag and tie it off.

Place in the bag and tie it off.

Every other day flip your belly. This process is called "overhauling."

Every other day flip your belly. This process is called “overhauling.” Once it’s firm and not squishy at its thickest point, you can string and hang.

As I type this post I’m reminded of the cat’s line in the movie “Babe”: “They only call them pigs when they’re alive.” Apologies to my vegetarian friends.

On another note, I was recently in Portland, OR and enjoyed dinner at an amazing place called Le Pigeon: http://lepigeon.com. It’s about the size of a phone booth, but the food they crank out is well worth the sardine-in-a-can experience. I ordered the heirloom beet salad and beef cheek bourginon, but the dish that was the show stopper was dessert: Foie Gras Profiteroles, caramel sauce, and sea salt. The crunchiness of the profiterole contrasting with the creamy foie gras with the sweet/salty backdrop of caramel and salt. Arresting combinations.

I got to sit at the bar and watch the chefs work. PERFECT spot!

I got to sit at the bar and watch the chefs work. PERFECT spot!

Profiterole perfection.

Profiterole perfection.

Stay tuned for the process of stringing and hanging…hopefully this weekend if all goes according to plan.

Eat more pork!

April

 

Ricotta Gnudi in Pomodoro Sauce

IMG_3782The gnudi pictured above are light, airy, and bathed in pure tomato simplicity. This dish is straight up fresh comfort food. But the kind of comfort food that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve just swallowed a weather balloon…if you don’t overindulge, that is. Don’t get me wrong, I think gnocchi are as equally as delicious as gnudi, however, gnocchi are made with potato, and gnudi’s made with fresh ricotta, which make gnudi much lighter and creamier.

I made some fresh ricotta (see earlier post on how to make fresh ricotta) and because we’d been out of town, I wanted to make Monica happy with some gnudi. She was a good sport taking care of the doggies and the house while we were away.

I don’t really recall where I got this recipe, but Nancy Silverton seems to be ringing a bell.

Serves 3. We had a side salad, too.

  • 1 lb fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 extra large egg
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup unbleached AP flour, plus more for dusting

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Fresh ricotta.

Fresh ricotta.

Use a microplane to grate your fresh nutmeg.

Use a microplane to grate your fresh nutmeg.

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Add your cheese.

Add your parmesan cheese. Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl.

Depending on the humidity in your area, etc., you don't need to add all of the flour. Add enough until you can form a dough ball.

Depending on the humidity in your area, etc., you might not need to add all of the flour. Add enough until you can form a dough ball. Roll it in a dusting of flour.

Pull off small pieces of the dough and form small balls. The dough will be wet inside, so you should have some flour handy to lightly dust your fingertips with.

Pinch off pieces of the dough and form small balls. The dough will be wet inside, so you should have some flour handy to lightly dust your fingertips in between pinches.

Once your gnudi rolls are done, cover with plastic and chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Once your gnudi rolls are done, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for a few hours.

I found a few pieces of prosciutto leftover from a dinner party, so I popped them into the oven.

I found a few pieces of prosciutto leftover from a dinner party, so I popped them into the oven. Convection on so they crisp uniformly.

Once they're nice and crisp, take them out and let them cool. Once they're cool, break them up into little pieces.

Once they’re nice and crisp, take them out and let them cool. Once they’re cool, break them up into little pieces.

Here are my toppings for the dish: crispy prosciutto, basil chiffonade, fresh park, and roasted pine nuts.

Here are all my toppings for the dish: crispy prosciutto, basil chiffonade, shaved parm, and roasted pine nuts.

For the sauce, I pureed a 28 oz can of Cento San Marzano tomatoes and added salt and pepper to taste. You can add a little EVOO and pasta water if you’d like, too.

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Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

Bring the water (salted like the ocean) to a rapid boil and slowly add the gnudi.

Bring the water (salted like the ocean) to a rapid boil and slowly add the gnudi.

As the gnudi finish cooking and float to the top (you shouldn't crowd the pan so do them in batches), add them to the sauce.

As the gnudi finish cooking and float to the top (you shouldn’t crowd the pan so do them in batches), add them to the sauce. Cover the gnudi with sauce and slowly simmer for a minute or two.

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Serve. Mangia!

Add toppings and serve. Mangia!

Ciao!

April

Mofongo

La Pasion in Fajardo, Puerto RicoWe were in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, recently and had some killer mofongo that I’d like to tell you about. For those of you on the East Coast who travel to Puerto Rico for the only true SAD cure: abundant sunshine and a refueling of your vitamin D reservoir, I highly suggest you make note of this great eatery.

We stayed on the tip of Fajardo – a little over an hour’s drive from San Juan –  at a place called the El Conquistador, which contained several restaurants; however, none could even begin to compete with the off property restaurant, Pasion pro el Fogon: a mofongo maestro.

We arrived in a cab and were greeted by a small squat building situated in a sloping parking lot that held too few parking spaces. We climbed out and approached the door.  I pulled on the handle only to discover that the door was locked. My first thought was that Pasion was closed, so I turned and looked back at our driver who was beginning to put his van in reverse and back out of the small lot. He dropped his window and instructed us to ring the buzzer on the wall to my left, so I quickly complied. A woman appeared, looked us up and down through the glass, and apparently made a snap judgement that we weren’t there to rob them blind. Sadly, Puerto Rico is suffering with over $70 million in debt and has been reduced to junk status by Standard and Poor. As a result, the island is now suffering from pervasive crime, a ridiculously high unemployment rate, decaying schools, and the mass exodus of its most educated/highly trained to find employment and a better life elsewhere. There are literally bars on every window. It’s just tragic.

Mofongo’s a Peurto Rican dish with strong ties to West Africa. Invading Spanish Conquistadors nearly wiped out the native people of Puerto Rico – the Tainos – and then they found themselves lacking a population to do all of the work; hence, the importation/enslavement of West Africans on the now American Territory and the influence of their cuisine.

African fufu is a dish that’s pounded with a mortar and pestle, just like mofongo. Fufu  might contain either plantains, yams, or other tubers. Cuba, too, has its own version of mofongo. It’s called machuquillo there and the element that ties them together is green plantains.

Chef Myrta Perez Toledo is frequently on site, but she was too busy for us to bother her on this evening. I did, however, snap a picture of a picture of Chef Myrta :).

Mofongo Maven

Mofongo maven Chef Myrta.

The mofongo menu at Pasion.

The mofongo list/menu at Pasion.

Roger and I shared fried pastelillos (very similar to empanadas) stuffed with spiced beef as an appetizer.

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Pasion mashes their mofongo plantains with garlic, olive oil, and BACON. Who can resist bacon? So when in Rome… I had to order the mofongo. I decided on the chicken with Puerto Rican sauce and Roger had the red snapper mofongo (recommended by the taxi driver). Both were decadent and delicious.

Chicken mofongo.

Chicken mofongo.

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Red snapper mofongo.

Red snapper mofongo.

I’ve searched the internet for a good mofongo recipe, but have had trouble locating one.  I did find one on this website: http://sanjuanfoodtours.com/cooking-puerto-rican-styl/

Puerto Rico has such beautiful beaches, and people. I sincerely hope that their current fiscal mess can be sorted out before the only revenue stream they currently enjoy, tourism, doesn’t dry up, too. Go visit and eat some mofongo!

Eat Well!

April