Green Pea Agnolotti, Crispy Pork, Consomme

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Spring is here and even in hot humid Houston it’s…well it’s nice. The weather, at least for now, is not brutal yet and feels like spring with cool evenings and days that are not stiflingly humid. This dish is a good bridge between winter and spring. It combines lovely deep flavored “braised” pork and it’s crystal clear consomme with that emblem of spring, bright green peas.

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This meal was a result of buying a whole untrimmed pork shoulder. This includes several muscles that can be separated and treated differently as opposed to the traditional American method of just slicing through the bone and slow-cooking everything (as in barbecue). My purpose was to harvest a whole Coppa which is a cylindrical muscle that is usually cured and air-dried. Then it is served like most Italian whole muscle salumi, sliced thin and enjoyed on its own, as part of a simple composed plate or on top of a pizza. This type of butchering meat is known as seam butchery and is practiced a lot in Europe. Its intention is to leave the muscles whole and divide up the animal’s quarters into manageable pieces without cutting through the bones much or at all.

Lomo-Coppa

I ended up with a lovely looking Coppa (picture above) that is curing right now. The Coppa  has a great shape and really good marbling in it that it got me thinking about doing this again but cooking the muscle instead of curing it. Really it is like a pork loin but with more fat running through it. How bad could that be? After butchering the shoulder I also ended up with a few other nice muscles including a flat one that looks a lot like a thick skirt steak. I believe this is what sometimes is called a Pluma. That’s what I used for this dish.

Pork

As soon as I finished butchering the pork shoulder I tossed the flat piece with some salt and a touch of sugar and let it rest in the fridge. I figured I’ll cook it sous vide with a bit of lard and go from there. Not sure what to do with the meat one it is cooked (tacos are always a good option anyways) I also took care of the resulting shoulder bone. Not wanting it to go to waste I roasted it well along with an onion cut in half until deeply browned. I deglazed the pan with Madeira and then Sherry vinegar, scraped all the browned bits and tossed all that into a pressure cooker. I added more aromatics and water and made a superb pork stock.

Pork Stock2 Pork Stock-Agar

Now I got a perfectly cooked piece of pork along with a few cups of delicious pork stock. Let’s mangle those two ideas togehter and see what comes out. Ramen? that could work, but I was not sure I wanted a stock flavored with Madeira and Sherry vinegar in that. I like the noodle idea though. I started looking for something more European. Maybe a fresh pasta tossed with the pork? I could shred the pork. Pour some of the stock into the served pasta bowls? That sounds good. Toss in some peas? Yeap! Maybe make it a bit more refined though. I also have that ricotta in the fridge that needed using….

Peas Pea Agnolotti

So I jotted down my initial idea that at one point included making a roulade out of the pork and slicing it to serve, similar to this venison dish. I abandoned that down the line. Crisping the pork chunks in a touch of lard would work and look better as well as give me some great texture. The agnolotti though stuck. The idea of pasta pillows filled with a ricotta-pea mixture contrasting with the flavorful consomme and  the crispy pork was irresistible. I have made those French Laundry-style dumplings a few times since I first posted about them here and now they have become much easier to prepare. The filling is a bit based on the recipe in The French Laundry book for fava bean filled agnolotti and it includes the peas (blanched and shocked in ice water), ricotta as well as a bit of fine fresh breadcrumbs to give it more body.

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Since I wanted a more refined dish I decided to make a clear consomme from the pork stock as opposed to leaving it as is, delicious but slightly “cloudy”. It would still taste great but just would not look as nice. The traditional method for making consomme is the one from the Escoffier days or earlier. It involves whisking egg whites, ground meat and some vegetables into the stock. This coagulates and forms a “raft” that traps all impurities and you strain off the clear stock.

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I opted for the more modern and much less labor intensive Agar clarification. I first learned about it from Dave Arnold’s Cooking Issues blog and posted about it before. The idea is to gently set the liquid with agar then, through a cheese cloth, squeeze and strain the clear consomme leaving all impurities stuck in the Agar web. I recorded my before and after weights for the stock to see how much I would lose and I started off with close to 750gr of stock. I ended up with around 500 gr of clear consomme. Not a bad yield for a very easy method that produces crystal clear result and pure flavor.

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To plate, I served the boiled dumplings and topped them with chunks of crispy pork. I added some reserved blanched peas to the plate as well. Then I heated up the consomme and seasoned it with salt and maple vinegar before pouring it around and over the pasta and pork. As a last touch I added a few drizzles of walnut oil and fresh thyme leaves.

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The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg – 2012) A+

We have all heard of the term ” a witch hunt” but maybe few have experienced it or know anyone who has been the target of one. In The Hunt we get an example of how horrible a witch hunt can be and how devastating it is for almost everyone involved. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas. He lives in a small town in Denmark, is very well liked and known to everyone. He lived there all his life and due to the high school being shutdown, Lucas ends up helping and teaching at the local Kindergarten.  His whole life starts getting upended when one of the students in the school brings up the possibility that Lucas sexually assaulted her.

The Hunt is not about whether Lucas did that or not. It is clear that he did not. She did not even mean to harm him, she had no clue how serious her comments are and what their impact would be. She is 6 after all and she was just mad at Lucas whom she genuinely likes and is her father’s best friend. What the movie does is show how one sentence from a 6-year old that is taken very seriously by her teacher coupled with group-think and the tendency to judge before any investigation, would destroy the life of a decent man. Nothing matters anymore, not that Lucas is the childhood friend of these people, not his place in this small society or his track record of being a well respected citizen. I will not spell out how it all ends up but really, there is very little doubt that Lucas’ life will ever be the same.

The film looks great with events happening around November-December. So we get a lot of the lovely Danish country side, fall colors and Christmas snow. All that contrasts with the bleak prospects that Lucas is facing. Mikkelsen plays Lucas as a man who loves the town he grew up in and the traditions  he holds dear. He wants his son to grow up here and will not give up and just leave town. It’s a great performance where he displays strength, affection and a resilience to stand up for himself. The script is tight and not overly melodramatic. The direction is solid and subtle. It simply tells the story as it possibly could happen and we end up with a haunting and memorable film that is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

A Trio of Goat Cheese Truffles with Peperonata

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I’ve made this dish from Mario Batali’s Babbo book several times over the years but I’ve never posted about it. Here’s the post to rectify that because this simple antipasto is so worth it. It never disappoints in the effort to result factor. Guests love the look and the flavor while the effort involved in making them is pretty low.

The most time consuming part of this whole dish is the peperonata. That’s just a fancy Italian word for marinated peppers. In the book, Batali just sautees the peppers and seasons with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. I’ve done them like that and they work fine but I prefer to use roasted peppers. So, I broiled the peppers until they are charred and then peeled them. These were then briefly sauteed to heat them through and tossed with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.

Goat Cheese Truffles

I have tried many ways to “roast” and peel sweet bell peppers but I use two methods primarily depending on what I need to use them for. My go-to method is to broil them in my oven (or on the grill if I have it going), put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let them steam and cool a bit. I never wash them as some recipes suggest you do to get the peel off. I feel that is not necessary and causes some flavor loss. I can live with a few bits of charred pepper skin on my bell peppers. Another method that I use sometimes is to char the skin all over with a torch. This is good when you want peppers that are pretty much still raw but can also be peeled easily. I also let them rest in a bowl after charring with a torch. These semi-raw peppers work great if you want to stuff them or in any way cook them a bit more.

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The “truffles” are made by mixing the goat cheese with a bit of Parmesan cheese and sometimes a small sprinkle of pepper. The mixture then is formed into small balls resembling truffles and rolled in a variety of seasonings. The typical trio of seasonings I have here is poppy seed, ground up fennel (or fennel pollen if you have it) and paprika. Anything could work though, but you do want something a bit robust to stand up to the sharp cheese and tart peperonata. To plate it I put a layer of arugula and top with the peperonata then on top goes the truffles with alternating colors. I served them family style here for our guests but another elegant presentation is to serve three truffles per person on a plate on top of the greens and peppers. Serve them with toasted rustic bread rubbed with garlic and you have a perfect and beautiful antipasto.

 

Mud (Jeff Nichols – 2012) A

Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a very interesting character. He lives/hides on what seems an island off a river in Arkansas. He’s in love with Juniper who might be the reason he is not going anywhere in life. He’s a fugitive who is stumbled upon by two young boys and the three of them develop a friendship of sorts as they help him restore a boat that is stuck in a tree so that he can escape, pick up his beloved Juniper and sail on to a happily ever after life! That’s sweet…but Mud, the movie, is more about Ellis, one of the two boys. He sees in Mud much more than a friend. As his family life is falling apart with his parents splitting and his dad losing his house and livelihood, Ellis sees Mud as a romantic father figure. Mud is Ellis’ proof that love exists no matter what and that life can stomp on you but not beat you down. Where that goes might be tragic or not depending on your point of view. Overall it is a fantastic coming of age story with great performances, charming settings and confident direction. 

 

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance – 2012) B+

In the first 20 minutes or so, the film seems to be a simple competent drama. A drifter and motorcycle stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) finds out that he has a one-year old son. He wants to support him by any means necessary so that he does not end up a drifter like his dad…Long story short the film is not as simple as that. It spans years and deals with the sins of the fathers (the other being Bradley Cooper) and their impact on their sons. It’s funny how a well made and interesting film can be almost ruined with a bad casting decision. The actor who is playing AJ, Bradley Cooper’s character’s son, is too old to be a high school kid that it was distracting for me. On top of that, his performance and demeanor whether intentional or not, was just unbearable. I cannot help but think that I would’ve liked this film more with a more competent (or maybe just a more suited) actor. Petty complaints and personal prejudices aside, the film is well executed and gives us characters we care about.