Category Archives: Pork

Balance and Bite: Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Apples, Bacon, and Cumin-Popped Pepitas

What does it mean to develop a recipe? What does it mean to test one? What does it mean to adapt a recipe? What is a truly original recipe? These questions represent the fundamental core of what I do as a recipe developer and food writer.

To develop a recipe means that you start at square one, with an idea, and make some hits and misses along the way. You tweak, you taste, you tinker. Until the recipe is just right. Sometimes all it takes is one shot. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, and years (like my ongoing quest for perfect biscuits and cornbread). To test a recipe means you are cooking a recipe, top to tail, exactly as written. You’re noting problems, making observations on timing, and perhaps suggesting shortcuts. The main goal is for the recipe to remain true to the creator’s intent–my fingerprint shouldn’t be detected whatsoever. To adapt a recipe means you take a recipe and change an ingredient or two. Perhaps switch out honey for sugar or take a recipe for a whole chicken and “adapt” it to be suitable for chicken breasts. It’s when a new idea totally piggybacks on someone else’s method.

I’m at my happiest when I’m developing. When I’m truly creating, thinking and imaging the possibilities of what could happen if.

It often starts with a concept. It hits me, starting like a small itch, and develops into a full on compulsion until I get the idea just right. A few months ago it was deviled tea eggs stained and marbled by tea and spices, and then halved and stuffed with deviled duck rillette. Then it was little cookie-cup s’mores stuffed with chocolate truffles and topped by a tanned marshmallow (stay tuned for that recipe). This week it was this risotto.

This risotto all began with the most innocuous butternut squash. When I cut the seemingly perfect squash open, the entire bottom half was semi-rotten. Useless, trash. But the neck of the squash was fine. Not enough to roast solo for a side dish, I decided to turn it into my main dish–which would be risotto. Instead of cooking the squash in the same pot as the risotto, I decided to roast it so it would retain its independence. Rather than cooking down and melding with the rice, roasting concentrates its flavors, making it extra sweet, extra browned, and texturally divine. Bacon and butternut squash are great friends, and a little bacon added a fantastic smokiness to the squash as well as the overall dish. Roasting apple with the bacon and squash gave the dish a sweet-tart tang and the peels offer petals of color. Fresh rosemary with its piney woodsy-ness can never hurt.

I stirred this combo into a basic finished risotto. It needed something, though…something crunchy and something sharp. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, fried with some cumin ended up to be a stellar choice. As they toast in the skillet, they expand into crunchy little pumpkin flavored footballs. Scallions add a  pungent bite. Creamy/crunchy, earthy/buttery, roasted/fresh; smoky/sweet. The risotto is a great snapshot of balance and bite, and of what happens when you wonder.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Apples, Bacon, and Cumin-Popped Pepitas

Serves 4 or 6 as a side

To make this vegetarian, leave out the bacon and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the roasting pan when cooking the butternut squash. I like creamy, sturdy carnaroli rice for risotto.

For the squash

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 apple, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 bacon strips, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the pepitas

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup pepitas (hulled green pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the risotto

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or Vermouth
  • 6 cups hot vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1. Roast the squash: Place the squash, apples, bacon, and rosemary on a rimmed baking sheet or in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast until the squash is tender and starting to brown and the bacon is crisp, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring once midway through.

2. Make the pepitas: Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Place the pepitas in the pan and cook, stirring often. Add the cumin after 6 minutes and then continue to cook until the seeds have popped and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the seeds out onto a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt, and set aside.

3. While the squash is roasting, make the risotto: Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they begin to brown around the edges and soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in the rosemary and pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat with the aromatics. Cook until the rice begins to smell toasty and turn opaque, about 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed.

4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add about 1/2 cup of broth. Cook, stirring often (you don’t have to stir constantly, but you don’t want to leave the pot standing unstirred for longer than 1 minute), until the rice nearly absorbs the broth—the pot shouldn’t look dry at the bottom and there should be a slight amount of liquid remaining, enough to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom. Continue to add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring between each, until you have added about 5 1/2 cups of broth (this will take around 25 minutes). Taste the risotto. You want it to be every so slightly al dente in the center—like pasta with a semi-white core. Continue to add broth and stir if necessary. Remember that, like a steak, risotto continues to cook once the heat is turned off. So it’s better to err on the side of undercooking than overcooking.

5. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and the Parmesan cheese. Stir the squash mixture into the risotto and taste; add more salt if needed. Serve sprinkle with scallions and the pepitas.

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Pork, Recipe, Side dish

Home is Where the Hock is: Hock, Stock, and Lentil Soup

Soup was one thing my mom, a woman who hates to eat and cook, used to make really well. Vegetable soup, chicken soup, or my all-time favorite: ham hock and bean soup. It was important for her to learn to make soup when she married my dad (they even met over a bowl of chicken soup at a diner on Chicago’s north side back in the early 1970s), because in my dad’s family, soup is love—it’s nourishing, hearty, filling, homemade, and cheap, all important factors when you’re bouncing back from near-starvation in war-ravaged Eastern Europe. So for my mom to marry my dad, not only would she have to convert to Judaism (not a problem for this ex-hippie, ex-born again Christian who had a thing for She-Hulk, and discos) but she’d have to learn how to make soup.

As a kid, I remember sitting down to soup with my mom and dad—they divorced when I was five, but the memory of coming together at the table for soup is one of the few happy family memories I have. Dunking fresh bread into soup is a human right, and we’d always have fresh bread with our soup, that is if I was stopped from tunneling out the interior of the bread in time. Otherwise, we’d dunk an eviscerated torpedo of crust into our broth, me while smirking, my dad while scowling.

Ham hock and bean soup was always my favorite. The hocks, which are really kind of like pork ankles, turn water with some rustic mirepoix (chunked carrots, celery, and onions) into a hoggy elixir at once salty, smoky, meaty, and rich. Mom would pull the meat off the hocks and then toss them in the broth with loads of kidney beans and not much else. A hot, massive bowlful with a few pieces of bread on the side was something to look forward to. So when Martha Bayne asked to make a soup for her Brooklyn edition of Soup & Bread (a fundraiser benefiting the New York City Coalition Against Hunger), I knew ham hock soup was the one I’d make.

My boys prefer lentils to beans so I made them with the former. I added some fresh rosemary and thyme and used a ton of black pepper to spice up the chopped and sautéed onions. The hock broth boils for a good few hours on the stove top, and afterward, instead of using the meat in the soup, I selfishly decided to save the hock meat for post-Thanksgiving hash (can you think of a better way to use up mashed potatoes than with pork hock meat and fried eggs? I mean, really!). Instead, I slow roasted a pork shoulder with lots of garlic and herbs, then shredded and chopped the meat and added it to the soup (you won’t use all of the shredded pork–save some to make barbecue pork sandwiches, see below!).

Anna Wolf, proprietress of My Friend’s Mustard and my nextdoor soup neighbor for the event, made an incredible creamy potato-havarti-beer soup with lots of dill (I want that recipe Anna!). She tasted my hock, stock, and lentil soup and said with a big smile—“it tastes like home, like a soup my mom always makes.” Thanks moms.

Hock, Stock, and Lentil Soup

While Thanksgiving is for pulling out all the tricks and finery for a massive feast, don’t forget that you need to eat something while all that cooking is happening. Soup is a masterful friend to have in the fridge, especially this one that re-gifts itself as pulled pork sandwiches (using a whole pork shoulder in a single pot of soup would be obscene! Save some for barbecue pork sandwiches) and day after Thanksgiving mashed potato and hock hash. I also like to toss a few spoonfuls with pasta, some olive oil, and a shower of Parm for a delicious and hearty lunch. You can of course completely skip the pork shoulder and just use the hock meat for the soup—your call (you’d miss out on barbecue pork sandwiches, which would be a real shame).

For the pork shoulder

  • 6- to 7-pound boneless pork shoulder
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup apple cider

For the hock stock

  • 3 ham hocks
  • 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 black peppercorns

For the soup

  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 whole garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups brown lentils, rinsed
  • Fresh bread for dunking

1. If making the pork shoulder: place the pork on a cutting board, meat-side up. In the bowl of a food processor, purée the onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Smear the mixture all over the pork. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Pour the cider into the bottom of a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or braising pot, place the pork in the pot, and braise until the meat easily pulls away from the roast, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Baste the pork every hour or so.

2. While the shoulder braises, make the stock. Fill a large pot with water (8 to 10 cups depending on the size of your pot). Add the hocks, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf, and peppercorns, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, set the cover askew, and simmer gently for 3 hours.

3. Turn off the heat and place the hocks on a large plate. Set aside to cool and then separate the meat from the fat and bones. If using the hock meat instead of pork shoulder for the soup, then set it aside. If not using the hock meat for the soup, refrigerate or freeze to use another time.

4. Strain the stock through a mesh sieve and into a large bowl. Discard the vegetables and set the stock aside.

5. Remove the roast from the oven and cool completely before shredding the meat and discarding the fat. Set aside 2 to 3 cups of shredded pork for the soup and refrigerate or freeze the rest for barbecue pork sandwiches, pork tacos, or something else tasty.

6. To make the soup: heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the onions soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the onions are deep golden and the pepper smells toasty, another 4 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the lentils and cook for 1 minute, then pour in 1 cup of the stock. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, and then pour in the remaining stock.

7. Bring to a simmer (don’t let the soup boil) and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are nearly tender, about 35 minutes. Stir in the shredded pork and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 10 minutes longer. Serve hot with bread, of course.


Filed under Dinner, Pork, Recipe, Soup

Midnight Brunch Meatballs! This time, in Sicilian!

Thank you to everyone who came out for Midnight Brunch on 11/11/11! Who knew I could stay up past midnight, let alone eat lamb vindaloo (that’s me plating the lamb vindaloo above) and chicken curry in the wee hours of the morning without turning into a pumpkin? What a fantastic time–what a great crowd! Brian Quinn’s extra-smooth cocktails were superb (the Dutch Derby was my personal fave), and I absolutely fell in love with Emily Cavalier’s Persian rice (scroll down, and the last photo is Emily and myself in Scott and Jessica’s amazing cave-cum-portal to ancient Egypt!). An extra thanks to the event volunteers: Brian, Rachael, Dani, Bryce, Stacie, and Topher (that’s him with the bowl of meatballs) as well as the American Lamb Board for generously sending us a gorgeous leg of lamb for the vindaloo.

The Sicilian meatballs I made  were a massive hit–I made about 125 meatballs and they were all devoured within 20 minutes! Now that’s serious eating. I figured it would be extra swell of me to share the recipe, which is based on a meatball recipe I learned while growing up in Chicago from the Campo family (hey Mr. and Mrs. Campo!). I posted a more traditional version earlier this fall that I made for Eugene Mirman’s Brooklyn Comedy Festival. Needless to say, those went pretty fast too–I had meatball groupies following me out of the even asking if I had any more “magical meatballs.” Lucky for them, not only are my meatballs “magical” but they’re also legal.

Sicilian Meatballs

Makes about 2 dozen golf ball-sized meatballs

These meatballs are based on the ones I made for the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in September–with a few shakeups like a pork and beef combo, currants, and mint. A disclaimer: I have never been to Sicily, however, this is how I imagine a Sicilian meatball tastes, perhaps with pine nuts added too (I think they get in the way of a nice ball cross-section, and don’t care for their earthy undertones, but hey, try it out and let me know your conclusions!).

  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus a good pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese plus 3/4 cup for sprinkling
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1  pound 80- to 85% lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups neutral oil (I like grapeseed)

1. Place the currants in a small bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the panko, a good pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl and add the milk. Set the mixture aside until the panko has absorbed all of the milk (about 10 minutes).

3. Whisk in the eggs and then and the Pecorino, shallots, garlic, basil, mint, salt, and pepper. Drain the currants and add to the breadcrumb mixture. Stir to combine.

4. Add the ground beef and ground pork, gently breaking them into small knobs as you add them to the bowl. Using your hands,  gently toss the mixture together until combined. Be careful not to knead or overmix and knead the meatball mixture. If you warm up the fat in the ground beef too much, your meatballs will be tough and stressed and your meatballs won’t be succulent and juicy.

5. Heat the olive oil and neutral oil in a large, deep skillet (I like busting out the cast iron for this) over medium heat. Once the oil is fragrant gently press and roll a chunk of the meatball mixture into a golf ball-sized ball. Add the meatball to the oil and fry it on all sides. Taste it for seasoning and adjust the salt or pepper if needed.

6. Shape the remaining meatball mixture into balls flattening them slightly (this allows you to easily brown them on all sides). Add 8 to 10 to the pan taking care to leave about 1-inch between meatballs (the frying meatballs should sound like a even-keeled applause, not angry white noise—adjust the heat if necessary). Cook the meatballs until both sides deeply browned, about 10 minutes total. Rest the meatballs on their sides around the pan’s perimeter to brown the edges, turning them as necessary. Add more raw meatballs to the center of the pan. Continue to cook the meatballs, turning them as needed, until browned on all sides. As they are done, use tongs to transfer them to a plate and sprinkle with lots of Pecorino, piling the meatballs on top of one another as you go, and always sprinkle Pecorino on top of the sizzling hot meatballs. Serve hot or at room temperature.

A special thank you to Clay Williams who took the photographs–thanks for making me look so good!


Filed under Appetizer, Beef, Dinner, Pork, Press/Appearances, Recipe

Nachos for Grownups: Pork Chop Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce and a Fried Egg

Before we got married, my husband Matt and I used to eat nachos all the time. There was a little dive Mexican joint in Somerville, Mass. called Taqueria La Mexicana. It was ugly and barebones, but they did a mean nachos: crisp and fresh-fried tortilla chips, a smooth and thin swipe of refried beans, rojo sauce, and a slick of molten cheese with a crust of golden-brown goodness that ringed the platter’s edges. It was super cheap and outrageously delicious.

We got engaged and moved to Brooklyn. I can’t recall eating nachos here. Maybe for us, nachos, like JP Licks and candlepin bowling, were a Boston thing. All I know is that I grew out of nachos and started ordering dishes like chicken and smoky mole enchiladas or grilled quail with red pipian. Nachos? I loved them, I left them.

Then I met chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are a Mexican breakfast dish of day-old tortilla chips, shredded cooked chicken, green or red sauce, grated cheese, raw onions, crema, and often times a fried egg to top it off. It’s one of those, “hey, I’m starved, what can I do with last night night’s leftovers” dishes born from frugality, common sense, and hunger. And they’re a heck of a lot like nachos.

Matt and I ate chilaquiles the day after we got married. The day we got married, Hurricane Ivan tore threw Brooklyn (I have now survived a hurricane—okay tropical depression—a tornado, AND an earthquake in Brooklyn). The rain came down in angry sheets. Our plans for a little garden party and movie screening in our backyard were kaput. We got married under a canopy of heavy clouds, but during and after the ceremony the sky didn’t shed a tear. It was cool and lovely with a stunning Brooklyn Bridge sunset that made up for the earlier turmoil.

Most East Coasters can tell you that the day after a hurricane is a stellar one. Shockingly blue skies, piercing sun, a calm and civilized breeze. That was how it was the day after our wedding. Matt and I walked down the street to Moe’s, a little bar in Fort Greene where there was a guy who made a mean bloody Mary. It was Sunday. Perhaps past noon. We ordered a round of drinks and took them outside. We ordered chilaquiles. We began.

Pork Chop Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce and a Fried Egg

Serves 4

To make this a vegetarian dish, replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth and lose the pork. Simmer the sauce uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. To gild the lily, sprinkle shredded mozzarella or Mexican melting cheese like Asadero, Oaxaca, or Chihuahua over the sauce-covered chips and broil to melt. Top with the egg before serving.

For the sauce

2 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved

1 large red onion, halved and sliced into wedges

6 unpeeled garlic cloves

1 jalapeño

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon if your tortilla chips are heavily salted)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

For the chilaquiles

2 thick bone-in pork rib chops (8 to 10 ounces each)

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 cups (6 good handfuls) good-quality thick-cut yellow corn tortilla chips

4 large eggs

For the tomatillo sauce: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the tomatillos, red onions, garlic, and jalapeño in a large baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with the salt, and toss to combine. Roast until the tops of some of the tomatillos and onions are blistered and blackened, about 1 hour (there will be a nice amount of liquid in the pan).

Remove the pan from the oven. Use tongs to pull out the garlic cloves and jalapeño and, once cool enough to handle, slip the garlic out of their papery husks (gently press one end and they should pop right out) and split and seed the jalapeño (if you want a fiery sauce, skip this step and add use the jalapeño whole). Transfer everything to the bowl of a food processor and buzz until pretty smooth. Pour in the chicken broth and add the cilantro, and process until smooth. Set aside.

For the chilaquiles: Place the pork chops on a cutting board and use a paper towel to blot both sides dry. Mix the paprika, coriander, cumin, oregano, and salt in a small dish and use it to season both sides of the chops. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the pork chops on both sides until browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Reduce the heat to low and pour in the tomatillo sauce. Use a wooden spoon to stir and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, cover, and cook, gently scraping the bottom of the pan occasionally, until the pork is very tender, for 1 to 1 hour and 15 minutes, and shreds easily (test this by removing one chop and slicing off a piece of meat—if it shreds into thin-ish strands, it’s done). Turn off the heat. Use tongs to pull the chops out of the sauce and set aside on a plate. Once cool enough to handle, use your fingers to shred the pork. Set aside.

Add the chips to the pot and use tongs to turn them to coat in the sauce (if you use thick tortilla chips they won’t get soggy). Divide the chips between plates and top with some of the shredded pork.

Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and cook until the white is turning golden brown around the edges. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the white is cooked through and the yolk is still runny (or cover and cook to get a white film over the yolk if you like your eggs basted).  Use a spatula to slide an egg on top of each pile of tortillas and serve.


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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, Dinner, eggs, Pork, Recipe, Uncategorized, Vegetarian, Vegetarian Main