Pork Chops with Sage Salt, Purple Potatoes and Cracklings

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Recently I needed to cook some pork chops for dinner. These are delicious thick ones from free-range pigs courtesy of the local Yonder Way Farm. It was mid-week on a school night and I needed them to be cooked pretty quickly for dinner along with some fried rice. No time for sous vide-ing for an hour and searing and such. I seasoned them, heated up my wok outdoors with an inch or so of oil and shallow fried them for a few minutes on each side until perfectly cooked at 140 F in the center. Boy were they delicious! I’ve been cooking them with this method that ever since whenever I can.

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This particular dish and combination is from a Jamie Oliver recipe, a simple meat and potato dish. What makes it a bit more special is the sage salt rub, the cool potatoes and -if I may toot my own horn a bit- my method of wok cooking the chops. Oliver uses fresh bay leaves for the rub, but I had none and dried ones work very well. I ground up the bay leaves along with fennel seeds and salt in my spice grinder and rubbed that all over the chops.

As the chops sat getting all seasoned up, I prepared the purple potatoes. These are really cool looking tubers. They honestly do not taste much different than your average Russet potato, maybe a tad sweeter. They do have a great color and pattern when raw and make for a purplish blue mash.

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I first boiled them until soft along with some garlic. Judging by the color of the water at the end,  I’m thinking next time I will steam them and see if I can retain more of the color. In the meantime, I rendered several pieces of pork fat taken from the edges of the chops. I used a cast iron skillet in the oven to do that. There was a good 3 tablespoons or so of rendered pork fat at the end along with crispy pork cracklings. When the potatoes where done, I tossed them in the hot pan with the fat along with a pinch of salt and roasted them until browned and crispy. Towards the end I gently smashed them up to get soft potato mixed in with the crispy surfaces.

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Cooking the chops in the wok takes maybe 10 minutes or so. I heat up the wok over a medium-high heat. I use my outdoor propane burner (turkey fryer kit) for all frying, deep frying and stir frying. I add about an inch of oil in the wok bottom and add the chops with one in the center and the remaining around it and up the wok “wall”. After a couple minutes I move them around so that another chop is in the middle and so on. I flip them over and do the same thing. After resting for a few minutes, the chops are good to go.

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For the sauce, I sauteed a little chopped shallots and added hard apple cider. After the mixture reduced I added a spoon of grainy mustard and chicken stock. I allowed that to reduce and stirred in chunks of butter. I plated the chops over the potatoes, added a few pieces of the crispy cracklings and a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Ravioli Genovese, Tomato Sauce and Olives

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More stuffed pasta. Delicious, elegant stuffed pasta. These Ligurian-inspired babies are ravioli filled with a mixture of sauteed Swiss chard, ground veal and homemade ricotta.

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I used to rarely cook with veal because of how it is produced and the horrible conditions the calves are kept in before they are slaughtered and sent to market. Recently though I’ve been seeing more and more naturally raised, grass-fed (not crated) veal at my local store. Frequently they have it on sale as well and I pick up a couple of packages. Ground veal in meatballs is excellent and gives a great texture to meatloaf as well.

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When my youngest son requested ravioli with tomato sauce for dinner I scanned what i had in the fridge and freezer. Ground veal, Swiss chard…there it is. Ravioli Genovese. I browned the veal a little onions and garlic. Meanwhile I blanched the chard and chopped it up. I mixed that with the veal, egg, Parmesan and homemade ricotta cheese.

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For sauce, I made a simple marinara with San Marzano tomatoes, a little garlic, herbs and olive oil. I did want something extra for the finished plate. So, I pitted some oil cured olives and scattered on top. Rich filling, tender pasta and sharp sauce made for a great dinner.

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Cappellacci di Zucca – Pumpkin Pasta with Sage, Pumpkin Butter, Pine Nuts

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This is cheat post. It’s a cheat post because I’ve posted about similar dishes before. Well, so what. We love this dish and its ilk and I try making it every fall a few times. I really love making fresh pasta and filled pasta as well so why not post about it (spoiler warning: the next post is also a filled pasta dish).

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It is a dish I make relatively often but honestly I never make it the exact same way twice, especially with the filling. This time I think is one of the favorites. The small sugar pumpkin I used was delicious on its own and I decided not to mask it with a ton of other flavors. In Mario Batali’s first book (my favorite of his really), Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages,  has a recipe for this dish and his filling is very simple. It’s nothing more than the pumpkin, an egg, some Parmesan and a grating of nutmeg. I went with that and it was perfect. Usually I would use butternut squash for something like this, but I really am glad I gave the small “pie”pumpkin a try this time. The flesh was dry and had great flavor and sweetness.

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Sage with this dish is classic and so is butter. Both are here but with a couple of extra layers of flavor. I put all the pumpkin seeds and pulp into a pot with a bunch of butter and let that gently melt and simmer. After draining I had a nice half cup or so of golden delicious pumpkin butter.

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I boiled the pasta while I got butter browning in a pan and then tossed in sage leaves. For another texture and layer of flavor I threw in a handful of excellent quality pine nuts. These are great pine nuts that I picked up from Lebanon wen I was there a couple of months ago. After the nuts got a good color on them and the sage leaves were a bit crispy I tossed the dumplings into the pan and added a few spoons of the pumpkin butter. Served with a handful of Parmesan and anointed with more pumpkin butter it was lovely.

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Greens, Pumpkin and Rice Torta

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If I had to pick all time favorite vegetarian meals they would have to be Mediterranean. They probably focus on lots of greens and wrapped in thin flatbread or dough (proper Falafel is probably on the top of that list). This Italian gem of a recipe from Paula Wolfert is one of those recipes and I’m happy to write about it at this time since it seems very autumnal.

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Ligurian cuisine is famous for the emphasis on herbs and greens. That’s where the beloved basil-pine nut pesto comes from, herb studded olive oil soaked Focaccia and all manner of simple pasta and seafood dishes. So, it is not surprising that Wolfert’s Ligurian recipe relies on large amount of greens sauteed in generous doses of olive oil and filled in a pastry enriched with more olive oil.

I prepared the dough first by mixing flour, water, olive oil and salt. The dough is very nice and pliable. It smells great due to the fruity extra virgin olive oil in it. That gets divided into two equal portions and can sit in the fridge wrapped in plastic for up to a couple days. It could seep some oil in that time but that is ok.

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Spinach and swiss chard made up the greens portion of the filling. The most important step is to make sure these are very very well washed. There is nothing more irksome than grit in an otherwise delightful dish (same goes for removing the poop “vein” from shrimp…I hate it when lazy cooks leave it in and we get nasty grit!) Anyways, back to the filling. I shredded a few handfuls of a small pumpkin using the coarse side of the grater and tossed these in some salt for a bit. The same salting treatment was used for the coarsely chopped greens. The salt draws out some of the water and helps reduce the astringency of the raw greens.

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After rinsing and draining the greens I sauteed them with onions and olive oil until wilted but still retained their firmness. I tossed in the shredded pumpkin and cooked that for a few minutes too. Once the mixture is cooled, I added a bit of short-grain rice that was soaked in water for 30 minutes, Parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella and a couple of eggs. I rolled the dough into large 14-inch rounds and topped one with the filling before covering it with the second round. I debated building the whole thing on a pizza peel and sliding it on my baking steel directly. I decided against that and went with building and baking the torta on a round metal baking pan. Next time I might give baking it directly on the baking steel a shot and see what happens (hopefully no burnt dough or a huge mess). My favorite way to enjoy this pie is at room temperature, sliced into wedges and eaten by hand. It is delicious, satisfying and keeps well. It makes lovely meals for days if you do not polish it off the first night.

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Plums and Pistachio: Olive Oil Cake, Pistachio Gelato, Poached Plums, Yogurt

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This is the second installment of the Plums/Pistachio pairing and this one has a much better gelato. This one is an easier plate to pull together and delivers excellent flavor and texture. We have a fragrant Italian olive oil rosemary cake, excellent pistachio gelato, plums poached in a juniper syrup and a yogurt vanilla sauce. I took all the pictures using natural light for this post too and..well…I think I can use some improvement (and maybe a new camera!).

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I prepared the gelato following my usual method based on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream template. Jeni Bauer’s formula of milk, cream tapioca (or corn) starch, sugar and corn syrup rarely fails and is very simple to make. I allowed pistachios to infuse the cream mixture and then blended it all together. The final gelato had the right flavor and creamy texture I was after.

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The cake is a classic Italian pastry. It’s one of those dry (in a good way) cakes that I love. This one is based on a recipe from Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook. The cake is made from flour, chopped rosemary, eggs, sugar and a fruity olive oil. It’s a very forgiving and flexible recipe that can be flavored in any number of ways (great with orange/lemon zest and ground almonds). I baked it in a small loaf pan and sliced it into neat rectangles.

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The plums I prepared with the previous plum/pistachio post were awesome. Not sure why I wanted to try a different method, but I did. Maybe I wanted to prove that my sous vide method is much better? Anyways, this time I poached the plums in a pot with blueberries and some juniper berries. I figured the juniper flavor would play off nicely against the rosemary in the cake. The flavor was pretty good and the juniper was a nice touch. However, I did not get nearly the nice ruby red color, the barely tender texture or the blueberry flavor that infused the plums that were cooked sous vide.

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The dish needed a bit of freshness some sharp notes. So, I made a quick sauce from whole milk yogurt and vanilla sugar. I added a dollop of the sauce in a bowl and topped it with a slice of cake. On that went a few slices of the plums and right next to it a scoop of the gelato. I gently poured some of the poaching syrup to finish off the dish.

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Plums and Pistachio: Dacquoise, Blueberry Poached Plums, Ice Cream, Chantilly Cream

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This is a very good combination of flavors that I tried out in two separate desserts, both are delicious, both imperfect and need some tweaking. The first one is another lift from Daniel Bouloud that features a disk of crunchy chewy pistachio dacquoise with whipped cream and poached plums with a scoop of pistachio gelato. The original recipe uses cherries instead of plums.

Making a pistachio dacquoise is pretty much the same as the dacquoise for one of our favorite cakes. A mixture of pistachio powder, pistachio paste and sugar is combined with whipped egg whites. This mixture is baked until browned and mostly crispy but not brittle. When done I cut it into roughly 2 inch circles and a few smaller ones for  the ice cream.

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Bouloud actually does not cook the cherries in his recipe. He just marinates them in a hot syrup. That would be fine for cherries but I had other plans for the plums. I cooked them sous vide with blueberry syrup.  The syrup is just blueberries, water and sugar simmered, mashed and strained. I bagged the sliced plums with the purple syrup and cooked it at 82 C for about 30 minutes.

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I liked how this worked out very much. The plums took on the amazing color from the syrup, they cooked perfectly without being mushy and had nice hints of the blueberry. It is obvious from the pictures that the plum took on a much deeper ruby color after cooking. I strained the cooking liquid and reduced it as well to make a simple sauce for the dessert.

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Now where the recipe failed is the pistachio ice cream. Bouloud’s recipe makes for a very thick ice cream base with lots of pureed pistachios. The end result had a good flavor but was closer to frozen pistachio butter than creamy smooth ice cream. To plate it I put a disc of the cookie and layered the poached plums in top. I whipped some cream with cherry liqueur and vanilla sugar then piped a nice rosette on top of the plums. A scoop of the mediocre ice cream goes along the side and a few drizzles of the reduced plum sauce.

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Halibut en Paupiette, Leek Royale, Red Wine Sauce

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One thing off the top here: Leek royale is awesome velvety delicious stuff. Ok, now that I’m done with that, the rest of this dish is very good too even if my execution is not as ideal or refined as I would’ve liked.

Chef Daniel Bouloud made this, a version of it actually, popular when when he was working at Le Cirque. At his restaurant, Daniel, he kept the popular dish in spirit but updated it a lot. In this version here I am doing a hybrid of sorts. The classic original is a fish, usually sea bass, wrapped in thin slices of potato and pan fried in butter. It is then served on top of sauteed leeks with a rich red wine sauce.

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In his book, Daniel: My French Cuisine, we get the updated version of the classic. It’s a steamed bass fillet with potato lyonnaise “rolls”, a rich leek custard (the aforementioned royale) and the classic red wine sauce, a Bordelaise. I started working on the recipe with the leek custard because that takes the most amount of work and needs to set in the fridge. I simmered the green part of the leeks along with Italian parsley until tender. I then cooked the drained greens in some cream and blended the whole thing, strained it through a fine sieve, seasoned it and blended in eggs and more cream.

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To cook it, I lined a small loaf pan with plastic wrap for easy removal later. I wrapped it with aluminum foil and cooked in a bain marie in the oven until set. This took a bit longer than the recipe recommends. I let the royale cool and popped it in the fridge until dinner time. Before plating, I gently unmolded the royale and cut it into neat 1 inch cubes and let them temper and come to room temperature. I tasted a few on their own. It’s rich with a lovely flavor of leek and has such a great smooth and comforting texture. For a few days after serving it with this dish we enjoyed the leek custard leftovers as a random side dish with dinner. It also goes great spread on crispy bread for a snack.

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Next I prepared the red wine sauce by reducing stock, plenty of red wine and some port along with shallots and thyme. Then I whisked in a crap load of butter until we had a glossy rich sauce. Chef Bouloud uses a vegetable sheeter to make long perfect sheets of potato which he uses to make strips to wrap the fish. I don’t have one of those contraptions so I bought the longest potatoes I could get my hand on and used the mandolin to make long paper thin sheets. This worked pretty well. I seasoned the halibut fillets with salt and pepper and some thyme. Then I brushed the potato sheets with clarified butter and used them to wrap the fish.

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The mistake I made here is to let the wrapped fish sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. The salt drew some moisture out of the fish in the meantime. So, it was a bit of a pain to get the fish to brown in clarified butter when I was cooking it for dinner. With some careful gentle heat I got the potato/fish packets cooked well, but next time I will wrap and fry the fish right away.

To plate, I poured some sauce on the plate and topped it with the fish. I put a couple of royale cubes on the side. I dressed a small salad made primarily of parsley leaves with lemon and olive oil. The salad went between the leek custard cubes. The flavors were awesome and the whole thing worked. With a bit of care with cooking the fish the dish could be quiet spectacular.

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