February 22, 2011

The Pig and I: Pancetta Cups with Duck Eggs for Charcutepalooza

I guess you could say my relationship with the venerable pig began when I was kid. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I saw my first dead pig, but I can say with certainty where it was: in our basement. Every year, my father would buy a pig, sharing the cost with several friends. Without warning, there it would be: hanging in the basement, mute and huge and, well, dead.

Funny about that – while I can remember those pigs, and the very first time I dared to touch one, I can’t ever remember being afraid or repulsed. I knew, even back then, that the pig would yield all manner of good things. And because it was there, in the house, it seemed normal; just another thing that my parents did, like making bushels of tomatoes into sauce, ravioli by hand, or batch after batch of pannetone, the golden loaves filling the small kitchen table. Didn’t every family butcher their own pig?

The ritual was the same. The long trestle table would come out, and the men would gather in the basement, working throughout the day to butcher the pig and divide the spoils. Our wine cellar, dank and dark and smelling of earth, would be the beneficiary of the day’s work. Hanging over the demijohns where we were sent to get the evening’s bottle of wine were the sausages and the salamis. Into the freezer went the pork chops and ribs. I don’t exactly know where we kept the musetto, that peculiarly Italian squat sausage that my mother would cook in hearty minestrone thick with beans, but I do know that I miss the taste of it still.

My father, preparing charcoal for an impromptu barbecue in the park

Of course, I didn’t exactly hang around for the butchering part. But the space of years and distance and parents long gone makes me yearn for a time machine, one that could bring me back to that basement, those days, that ritual.

Fast forward to today, where I still revere the pig and all its glorious parts, never really thinking about making more than a roast or ribs. And then I read about Charcutepalooza. Cue the angels singing and the clouds parting. Could I, would I dare myself to make my own prosciutto, pancetta and bacon? Damn right I would!

Late to the game, I’ve been furiously salting duck breasts and pork belly. The extra fridge in the basement has been divested of its bottles of wine and turned into a curing spot. Cheesecloth and butcher twine bought, curing salt procured, jubilation abounding.

And finally, my first Charcutepalooza post, featuring duck eggs cooked in pancetta cups with mushrooms, parsley and cheese. Never has a dish tasted more satisfying, or connected me more to my heritage. My father would be proud.

For this Charcutepalooza challenge, I chose to make the pancetta.  The pork belly, from Cumbrae's, was one gorgeous piece of pig.

Richard was away, so rolling the belly solo was impossible. Here's the belly after curing for seven days, wrapped and hung flat

Beautiful marbling for my first pancetta attempt!

Duck Eggs in Pancetta Cups with Porcini Mushrooms and Cheese
serves two or four

These little eggs cups can either form the main course of breakfast meal or be a mini side dish for a brunch.  Serve two per person if they are the main event.  They're baked in steps, to allow each element of the dish to cook to perfection.

½ lb piece pancetta (not sliced)
3  oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp chopped parsley, divided
½  tbsp each unsalted butter and olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 duck or chicken eggs
2 oz hard goat cheese, cut into thin 2 " strips

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F, with the rack in the middle position.

2.  Reconstitute the mushrooms in 2 c boiling water for 20 minutes. 

3.  While the mushrooms are reconstituting, slice the pancetta into 4 ⅛-inch x 4-inch strips.  Grease 4 of the cups in a regular muffin tin, and line them with the pancetta, around the sides and the bottom.  Set aside.  Separate the eggs, being careful not to break the yolks.  Set the yolks aside in their shells, and put the egg whites in a pourable measuring cup.

4. When the mushrooms are ready, drain, rinse and chop finely.  Heat the butter and oil over medium heat in a small skillet, and when the foam subsides, add the garlic.  Sauté, stirring, for a minute and then add the mushrooms and one tbsp of parsley.  Continue sautéingstirring, until the ingredients meld and are fragrant, about two minutes more.

5.  Add a generous tablespoon of the porcini mixture to each cup.  Divide the egg whites between the cups.  Place the muffin tin in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the egg whites are just set.*  Take the tin out of the oven, top each cup with an egg yolk and put back in the oven, baking a further 2 minutes. 
*Duck egg whites are particularly unctuous and take longer to cook.  If you are using regular eggs, you may want to bake the pancetta cups for five minutes first, and then add the mushrooms and egg whites and shorten the baking time for the egg whites.  The important thing is to allow the various layers to cook thoroughly without overcooking the eggs.

6.  Take the tray out, top with the cheese, and broil for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Sprinkle the remaining parsley on top of each cup.
7.  To serve, scoop the cups out carefully with spoon and place one or two of the cups on a serving plate.  Serve with hot buttered toast to dip into the egg yolk, which will be creamy and thick.

February 18, 2011

Something Fishy: Halibut with Meyer Lemon, Olives and Fennel

It’s a funny thing about seasonality. We tend to associate that with the abundance of summer and fall, when Nature spoils us with an
embarrassment of riches. Winter is a crueler time, stoic and practically begging for the hearty dishes that fill and nourish us. But even now there's a seasonality uniquely of the moment that makes lighter dishes and tastes possible and welcome.

I’m thinking about Meyer lemons a lot these days. I hope they won’t become a year round thing; foods should be savoured for their fleeting appearance, valued because they are that much more uncommon. And there’s something about these sunny lemons that makes me think of the Mediterranean: of lazy afternoons, warmth and indolence. I'm thinking of myself sitting at a café table for one, the mysterious woman with the fabulous hat and Jackie O shades, delicately eating a light and tasty fish dish that’s drenched with lemons, olives, fennel. I’m thinking I just might make this for dinner again tonight.

Halibut with Lemon, Olives and Fennel
serves two

1 lb halibut fillet
2 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced, fronds reserved*
½ to ¾ c assorted good quality Mediterranean olives
2½ c olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
A good finishing salt, such as Maldon (optional)

Poaching firm fleshed fish in olive oil and cooking in a low heat oven is a wonderful way to prepare halibut. Surprising, the oil doesn’t absorb into the fish at all.

1. Preheat the oven to 250F°. Rinse and pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper. Use a light hand with the salt; the olives will add to the dish's saltiness. Set aside.

2. Line a shallow glass baking dish with fennel fronds. Top with a layer of the lemons and then a layer of fennel slices. Place the fish on top.

You can't have too many fronds at the bottom of the dish; supplement with the celery-like stalks in a pinch

3. Sprinkle the olives on top and around the fish. Add another layer of lemons and fennel slices. Carefully pour the olive oil into the dish until the fish is almost completely submerged.

Don't worry about the olive brine getting into the dish

Note the the oil is not covering the lemons and fennel, but is covering the fish

4. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for one hour, or until the fish is flaky. To serve, remove the fish from the dish with a slotted spoon and divide amongst two plates. Garnish with the lemon and fennel slices and the olives.  Add a pinch of Maldon salt to finish the dish, if desired.  Just be careful about the overall saltiness of the dish.

5. Pour a glass of Alsatian Pinot Gris, don your most fabulous hat and dream of the Mediterranean while you eat.

*Regarding fennel fronds. I got lucky when I went to Fiesta Farms for the fennel; Serge in produce was just trimming a big crate of fennel for restocking. If you can sweetly wheedle a bag of the discarded frond tops, they make an excellent lining for fish dishes, as I've used them here, or to stuff into whole salmon. If you really want to capitalise on an unexpected bounty of fronds, mince and measure the feathery greens into three tbsp portions and freeze in little baggies to have ready to make Fennel-Olive Oil Quick Bread.

February 12, 2011

Now I'm Stylin': The Stylish Blogger Award

A few days ago laxsupermom from Sugar n Spice in the land of Balls n Sticks nominated my blog for a “Stylish Blogger Award”.   It was only when I started reading about other SBA nominees that I realized this wasn’t just a nice way of saying “I like your blog”. When I accept the award, I need to tell you seven things about myself, give the award to 15 other fab blogs (and bloggers) that I love, and a shout out to the person who nominated me.

So, first, thank you laxSM, for your nice nomination!

And without further ado, here are seven random things about me.

1. I have (ahem) a bit of a shoe weakness
Sadly these are not my shoes but a girl can dream

2. And can generally find something to buy even if I’m in the middle of nowhere – I *love* to shop
Who do you suppose shops at this Prada store?

3. We don’t own a TV
Contemporary Tv Stand
When we get one I want it to be MASSIVE

4. But I still manage to be addicted to Glee
glee season 1
Sue Sylvester rocks; or at least that's how I "c" it

5. I collect cookbooks - obsessively
How many is too many, really?

6. And a couple of my recipes have appeared in a best-selling cookbook

If you don't own this cookbook, you should

7. Did I mention I like food?
...but you knew that already

There are so many fabulous blogs out there, it’s hard to choose just 15 to highlight. So here’s a random list of food blogs that make my mouth water, make me laugh, or just plain entertain me. I hope you visit them and enjoy them too.

February 10, 2011

Sweet Winter Sunshine: Marmalade Two Ways

There is something deeply satisfying about eating an orange in the dead of winter.  The juicy flesh defies the snowscape outside, and the sweet and sometimes tangy taste is an antidote to Mother Nature's heavy grey skies. 

Sure, you can buy an orange any time of the year, but now is the time to savour the fleeting season of the best of citrus fruits.  Seville oranges, with scarred and angry skin; delicate Meyer lemons, sweet and so deeply hued as to be almost orange; and my personal favourite, blood oranges, with their shockingly deep red flesh.

I wanted to capture the essence of this sunshine season in the only way we can: through preserving.  I began experimenting with preserves and canning last autumn, and was immediately hooked.  Science meets nature in an alchemy that's part art, part magic.  The best part is that you know you're participating in a practice that has changed only slightly in hundreds of years.

What better gift to give the season's citrus than honouring them in a pretty jar?  Here are two takes that will make your toast - and tummy - happy.

Blood Orange Marmalade
yields approx eight 250-ml jars

Marmalade came to its present incarnation in Scotland hundreds of years ago, but took hold more slowly in other parts of the world.  Today, orange marmalade is often part of the triumvirate of jams gracing the breakfast table.  Its combination of intense peel and jam is just the right taste to highlight a freshly toasted slice of bread slathered with butter.  But don't forget to use it as the Scots do, on everything from roast meats to desserts.

3 lbs blood oranges
6 cups sugar

Note: Marmalade typically calls for 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of liquid.  You can use this formula as a guideline for all types of marmalade.  For a fuller explantation of the science of canning, refer to my post on plum jam, which has a step-by-step tutorial on how to can.

1. Wash the oranges thoroughly, soaking in hot water if needed to remove dirt from the skin.  Trim the tops and bottoms of the oranges and score the peel in several large strips.  Remove the peel, reserving the fruit. With a serrated spoon or sharp knife, remove as much pith as possible from the peel.

2.  In a large stainless steel pot, place the peel and fill with water to cover.  Bring to a boil and continue cooking at a boil for 10 minutes.  Drain and repeat, boiling the peel for a further 10 minutes.  Drain and let cool slightly.  Cut the peel into thin strips, no more than ⅛ in thick. Set aside.

3.  With a very sharp knife, trim membrane from reserved fruit.  Remove as much membrane as possible, and cut the segments into small dice.  Place the fruit and the reserved peel in a large stainless steel pot, add 1 litre water and bring to a boil.  Boil gently for approx 30 minutes, or until peel is soft when squeezed.  Measure the marmalade; you should have about 6 cups of marmalade mixture.

4.  Return the marmalade to a large stainless steel pot, and bring to a boil.  For every cup of marmalade, add 1 cup of sugar, stirring each cupful in until it is fully incorporated.  Boil until the marmalade reaches gel stage, about 12 minutes.  Be careful not to overboil the mixture.

5.  Skim marmalade if needed, cool slightly, can and boil for 10 minutes.  Cool marmalade and store for the long winter ahead.

Lemon-Scented Orange and Ginger Marmalade
yields approx 10 250-ml jars

2 lbs Seville oranges
2 lemons
1 oz fresh ginger
3 ½ qts water
4 oz crystallised ginger, finely diced
4 ½ lb sugar

1. Wash the Seville oranges thoroughly, soaking in hot water if needed to remove dirt from the skin. Halve the oranges and lemons and squeeze the juice out. Strain the juice into a bowl, reserving the seeds.

2. Strip the flesh from the oranges and lemons, reserving, and slice the rinds into thin strips. Place the reserved seed and pulp into cheesecloth, tie with kitchen twine and set aside.

The pectin's in the pith

3. In a large stainless steel pot, combine the orange and lemon peel, the cheesecloth and the water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the peel is very soft, at least two hours.

Blood orange marmalade in front; Seville orange marmalade in the rear

4. Remove the cheesecloth bag, stir in the candied ginger and the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, boil until the marmalade is at gel stage, about 30 minutes.

5. Take the marmalade off the heat, cool slightly, then can and simmer for 10 minutes.