Monday, February 22, 2010
I'm always searching for easy, weeknight meals for one that I can throw together in five minutes and still truly enjoy eating. And what could be simpler than bread with sauce and cheese? The other day I picked up a fresh pineapple, and it reminded me of how much I loved Hawaiian pizza as a kid. I'm sure to a native New Yorker that is pizza sacriledge, but I'm from California, so I figure that gives me a pass. Besides, it really is good! Good salty ham or bacon, fresh, sweet pineapple, garlicky tomato sauce, tangy red onions, creamy cheese, herby oregano, spicy pepper flakes - it's a taste explosion! And this is a great use for my big pile of leftover Oven-Roasted Kalua Pig.
You will need:
Sliced sourdough bread
Garlickly tomato sauce
Melty white cheese (I like pepper jack or mozzerella)
Cooked ham, bacon, or pulled pork
FRESH pineapple, cut into half-inch chunks
Red onion, cut into thin slices
Oregano (fresh is better, dried is fine)
Red pepper flakes
Take a slice of sourdough. Slather it with tomato sauce. Add grated cheese, red onion, pork, and lots of pineapple. Sprinkle lightly with salt, red repper flakes, and oregano. Bake at 400°F for about 10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and pineapple is lightly browned. (Once the bread is crusty and the cheese is melted, a pass under the broiler will help caramelize the pineapple.)
Friday, February 19, 2010
A few years ago I went to Maui with my friend Channing and discovered a little takeout joint in Kihei called Da Kitchen. They have Hawaiian plate lunches - meat and scoops of sticky, medium-grain Japanese rice and sweet, mayonnaise-y macaroni salad. My favorite was the Kalua Pig - pulled pork. It's traditionally made for luaus with a whole pig, baked in a pit in the ground called an imu over hot coals for a whole day. Since that vacation, I've regularly craved that salty, smokey, porky flavor, but I've never been able to find it, even in so-called Hawaiian lunch places on the mainland. It's always dry or water-logged or stringy, lacking that delicious melt in your mouth texture and flavor that goes so well with fragrant sticky rice. So I decided to try make my own, abeit on a smaller scale.
I've made pulled pork in the past, roasting a pork shoulder in the oven slowly at 250-275°F for 8-10 hours or more. It was good, and the smell that filled the house was amazing, but simply covered in a pan with tinfoil, it was a bit dry. I also missed that barbecue smoke flavor. I did a little research into the traditional kalua way, and realized that I need to really seal in the moisture and fat of the meat to get the right texture. (Banana leaves work well here and are available in Latin American and Asian markets.) Then I added a touch of liquid smoke. I also thought I'd try cooking it at a higher temperature - 500 °F - for a shorter period of time - about 5 hours - thinking to replicate the searing heat of cooking over coals. Honestly, I think you'll get an equally good result cooking a shoulder at 250°F for 10 hours as you do at 500°F for 5 hours. The only difference will be that you'll get a tasty crackling skin at the higher heat. 500°F is a hot oven, so do whatever you have time for and are comfortable with.
To feed 6-8 people really well, you will need:
One pork shoulder, bone-in, skin-on, well-trimmed (lots of meat, not too fatty), 7-8 lbs.
One package banana leaves (acutally 1 giant banana leaf), available frozen in a latin market for about $1.50 Make sure they are dark green and nice looking, not brown or moldy. They will be dirty and slimy, so soak and scrub them well. Don't worry if the pieces of leaf pull apart a bit. Keep them in water until you're ready to use them.
Liquid smoke (I used Wright's Hickory Seasoning Liquid Smoke. Find a brand that is all natural and literally only contains concentrated smoke and water, no sugar or other flavorings.)
Lots of tin foil
A roasting pan and meat rack
Take the pork shoulder out of the fridge and allow to sit out for an hour or two at room temperature before cooking. This will save you cooking time and energy costs.
Preheat the oven to 500°F with the oven rack in the lower middle position.
Rinse the pork and pat dry. Salt liberally, all over - I used a good
2-3 tablespoons of kosher salt.
On a large surface, spread out two layers of tinfoil, shiny side up, over a 1.5' by 2' area, making sure the edges overlap well. Take the wet banana leaf pieces and lay over the tinfoil, overlapping the edges. Place the salted pork in the middle, skin side down, and sprinke with 1 tablespoon of liquid smoke.
Wrap the banana leaves around the pork as completely and tighty as you can, then bring up the tinfoil around the meat and wrap well to secure the leaves and keep in the heat and moisture.
Set the meat rack in your roasting pan. (I actually don't have either, so I used a Calphalon 3 quart saute pan (just big enough) and a sturdy, heavy-gauge 9-inch aluminum pie plate, bottom-side up, to prop up the meat. (If you use this set-up, the high heat will likely warp your pie plate, so make sure it's not one you care too much about.
Now, flip your wrapped pork shoulder over so the skin side is now up, and place on the meat rack in the roasting pan. Add an inch or so of water to the bottom of the pan to keep any drippings from burning. Cover the pan with a final sheet of aluminum foil, shiny side down, crimping around the edges of the pan to create a seal.
Put in the oven and roast for about 5 hours. (I did 5 hours for a 7.5 pound roast, so that's about 40 minutes a pound.) Check and refill the water level every hour or so. In the last half-hour of cooking time, poke a hole in the bottom of the tin foil so that some of the now liquid fat can drain into the bottom of the pan.
Take out of the oven. I know I don't need to say this, but I will anyway: the pan is very hot. Burns hurt. Please use caution and drape pot holders over any handles as the pan is cooling. Peel back the tinfoil and taste. Yummy, right? When it's cool enough to handle, "pull" by scraping a fork over the soft meat, or use your fingers, and serve. Taste again and consider adding a light sprinkle of sea salt if needed. I served it traditonally with a scoop of sticky white rice and a scoop of store-bought macaroni salad. (I know, I know, mac salad is too sweet and too mayonnaise-y, but I'm a sucker for tradition.) It's really nice with a green salad, expecially this citrusy and refreshing Grapefruit, Red Onion, Romaine, and Feta Salad. (I'd eliminate the feta, but it's up to you.)
A note: Leftover pig freezes really well. There are all sorts of ways you can use it - quesadillas, pulled pork sandwiches, pizzas, curry, stir fry, ramen soup...the list goes on!
This winter salad is another riff on my obsession with mixing differents types of flavors together in one dish: Sweet, sour, savory, salty, and bitter. It's cool and refreshing and has a great mix of textures. It's perfect light meal on its own with lots of crusty bread to sop up the dressing, but I also love it as an accompanyment to a rich main dish, such as the Oven-Roasted Kalua Pig. The citrus, vinegar, and sweet red onions really balance out the heavy creaminess of the meat. It's also nice with winter comfort foods like homemade mac and cheese and fondu.
As a main dish for 4 or a side for 6-8, you will need:
2 large grapefruits, skins and white pith trimmed off with a knife. Pink and red are pretty in this salad
1 large head of romaine lettuce, washed, dried, chopped into bite-size pieces, and chilled in the fridge
1 large carrot, peeled and shaved into wide strips with a vegetable peeler, then cut into bite-size squares
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into thin slices. Separate the rings
Feta, about a quarter pound, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
Good olive oil
Toss the lettuce, carrot pieces, and red onion rings in a large bowl and set aside. Take the trimmed grapefruits and set them on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut out each segment from between the tough segment walls. Set the segments aside.
Over the bowl containing the lettuce, squeeze the leftover tangle of segment walls with your hands to extract as much juice as possible. You should get up to a quarter cup of liquid. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon or so of sherry vinegar, lots of black pepper, and the feta cheese. Toss lightly. Now taste and adjust the seasonings. You may need a light sprinkling of salt or more olive oil/vinegar - I like lots of vinegar and lots of dressing, but do what tastes good to you. Before serving, arrange the delicate grapefruit segments on top and toss very gently just to coat the fruit.
You'll want to assemble this salad right before serving to keep the crisp romaine and onions from getting soggy.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
This is a tasty dinner party appetizer that's filling, but not heavy enough to spoil your meal. The classic flavors of garlic, herbs, olives, creamy mozzarella, and olive oil really satisfy. You make it ahead and take it from the fridge to a serving dish - no fuss for the host.
You will need:
Equal parts mixed olives with pits and bocconcini mozzarella balls (bite-size)
1 small clove of minced garlic for every half pound of olive and mozzarella mixture (a little raw garlic goes a long way)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chopped herbs of your choice (I like rosemary and oregano, etc.)
Good, peppery olive oil
If the mozzarella balls come packed in brine, drain them, then lightly sprinkle with fine sea salt. In a large Ziplock bag, mix together with the olives, garlic, pepper, parsley, and herbs. Douse in olive oil until well-coated, but not swimming. Squeeze out the air, seal, and marinate in the fridge for several hours, and up to a day. If you like, garnish with fresh parsley and serve with crusty bread.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
I was babysitting the children of friends the other night. The parents were running late, and the kids were hungry, so I started poking around their fridge looking for something for dinner. My friends have a well-stocked kitchen, a love of everything Italian, and only buy organic produce, but the cupboard was pretty bare. What could I make that would be kid-friendly but still good, real food?
I found a bag of big, fresh, farmers market mushrooms. Beautiful purple stripe garlic. Olive oil, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, big, baconey pine nuts, and dried spaghetti. So, pasta with toasted pine nuts, butter, and cheese, and mushrooms, sauteed in garlic and olive oil, on the side. I looked around for some dried oregano for the mushrooms, but all I could find was a little plastic bottle filled with a strange green herb, labeled fiori di finocchio selvatico. Wild fennel flower from Tuscany. I opened the bottle and inhaled.
REVELATION. It was everything that is wonderful about a good Italian sausage with fennel seed, but MORE. More intense, more sweet, more rich, more savory. Almost a curry-like flavor. But more delicate and mysterious. A secret ingredient. I sprinkled a small pinch over the slowly sizzling mushrooms. Truly amazing. And the kids ate it. All. I went out today looking for this miraculous new (to me) herb and found it at Buon Italia in Chelsea Market in Manhattan. $16 for a container the size of a small prescription pill bottle! I bought it, but suffering from sticker shock, I also bought a bottle of ground fennel seed for $2 to compare. In a taste test, the ground fennel was bitter, much softer, almost mud-flavored in comparison to the brightness of the fiori.
Try the fiori di finocchio selvatico in this mushroom recipe. Sprinkle it on homemade pizza or thick pork chops or buttered pasta with grated Parmesan cheese or fresh grilled sardines. A little goes a long way, so hopefully my expensive jar will last a good while.
As a side dish or pasta topping for two people, you will need:
1 pound large Crimini or white button mushrooms, cleaned, ends of stems trimmed, and cut into half inch slices
Extra virgin olive oil
3 regular garlic cloves, finely chopped, but not pressed or minced. (You want crispy bits of sweet, slowly fried garlic. If it's chopped too fine, it might clump or burn as the mushrooms slowly saute. )
Freshly ground pepper
Fiori di Finocchio
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, non-stick saute pan for several minutes over medium low heat. (Cast iron is great if you have it.) Add a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and saute for about a minute, without browning, to cook out the raw garlic flavor. (If you eliminate this step, the mushrooms will absorb the raw garlic juice and the garlic flavor will be too strong.) Add the sliced mushrooms. Don't crowd. If your pan is too small, cook them in batches, adding more olive oil as necessary. The mushrooms need a fair bit of oil and space to brown up nicely.
Sprinkle lightly with salt to help draw out the moisture, allowing the mushrooms to caramelize and keeping the garlic from burning. They will shrink as they cook, so be careful not to over salt. Add pepper to taste, and then sprinkle a pinch of fiori di finocchio over the mushrooms. Saute until soft and golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.