For anyone who living in Central Harlem with a taste for the unholy swine, it is often a hassle to find some pork!
I refuse to settle for turkey bacon, turkey sausage, turkey ham, and all of the other abominations made of our November bird. Pork is just a way of life for me, and that is simply why I will never be a good Jew, or Muslim for that matter.
So, as bunny bunny turns into rabbit rabbit (the first of the month, of August specifically), I find it a delightful coincidence that I am cooking two pork dishes for dinner this evening, with a Latino-Italian spin.
Pour le plat du soir, Roberto and I will enjoy baked penne Bolognese and stuffed pork tenderloin. Pork two ways!
I am not a huge fan of recipes—they often feel limiting and conformist, but I do like to work with some guidelines when making food.
1) Experiment in numbers: When you decide to try out a new dish or cooking technique, have that be only part of your meal. This way, should the dish not work; you have the other part of the meal to rely upon (even if that is just dessert). Or have a delivery number handy—your choice.
2) Stay Consistent: Have flavors correspond to each other. Nothing links a meal together better than similar tastes. If you are going to use nutmeg in your Mac and cheese, why not add it to your chicken.
3) Choose your time wisely: Your kitchen should not feel like Iron Chef or a short-order diner. Choose dishes that fit within a time you feel comfortable cooking. Don’t attempt to make a Coq au vin in 25 mins, unless you want wine-y salmonella. And if you are starving, then make yourself a little nibble while you are waiting for your meal to complete. I enjoy snacking on cheese, or something that doesn’t require cooking that I used in my meal, like nuts or peppers.
4) Sweaters don’t go in the oven: Your oven is probably one of your best time savers. You can use your oven to make everything from grilled cheese to bacon and eggs. I’d rather stick something in the oven at 325 than stand in front of the stove any day.
5) Similar Spices: I am never really a fan of buying spices that I am going to employ in one dish, and never use again. If you are only in the mood for Indian food once every six months, don’t buy tons of turmeric and fenugreek. My spice staples always are: sea salt, white/black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, nutmeg, hot and sweet paprika, hot chili, and herbs de Provence.
In the spirit of sharing my meal this evening, I will offer the closest thing to a recipe I can. Please feel free to change or substitute anything or everything. I just want to make sure you are loving what you put in your mouth :-)
A) Baked Bolognese
.75 to 1 lb of protein: ground meat (I like a 3:1 pork to beef mixture)/sausage OR minced meaty mushrooms
3 tablespoons of sofrito (I use the Goya store mix, but feel free to make your own)
2 teaspoons of ground onion
2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
Sea/kosher salt and pepper
4 tablespoons of vinegar (I like balsamic or champagne, something with tangy sweetness)
2 tablespoons of red wine or sherry cooking wine
1- 16 oz can of whole tomatoes
1 box of pasta (I like whole wheat penne, but use whatever you like. Just not egg noodles.)
Any REAL melting cheese of your liking
1) Heat some olive oil over medium heat in any pan that can be covered and has a good wide surface area that allows for even browning of the meat/mushrooms.
2) When the oil begins to shine and shimmy, add the onion power and paprika. Stir and allow it to color the oil for 30 seconds. Don’t let it burn, if it does, just start again. Then, add the sofrito, and stir around for 2-3 min.
3) Add the ground meat/mushrooms; combine with the onion-paprika oil/sofrito, and brown. Don’t stir vigorously—protein likes to take its time to color. Think of sunbathing.
4) After the meat/mushrooms are brown (think brown like golden wheat or bamboo, not brown like leather, that is burnt), put up the heat a little, and add the vinegar and wine deglaze by scraping up the brown bits that have accumulated at the bottom of the pan.
5) After half of the liquid is absorbed, turn down the heat and add the can of tomatoes (I normally use a potato masher to crush half of the can, and blend the other half. But if you like more texture, just hand crush the tomatoes, if you don’t want to be reminded of anything that looked like a fruit-veggie, then blend the whole lot.)
6) Turn down the heat to medium-low to low, and allow to simmer (this means lightly bubbling); then cover and stir occasionally for 20-30 min, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the entire spoon.
7) At this point, I like to add a little butter (like 3tbs), salt and pepper to taste, and allow to cool to room temp then refrigerate overnight. I find the sauce to be better the next day.
8) On the day of cooking, reheat the sauce with 3-5 teaspoons of water to maintain moisture.
9) Cook the pasta to just under al dente—which should take about 6-7 min for a box.
10) Drain (save some of the pasta water to thin the sauce seems if it seems thick; it should be like a thick stew, not a gravy) and combine the pasta and sauce and cheese.
11) Place in a baking dish or ramekins, place some cheese at the top, cover with a lid or foil, and bake at 350 for 20-40 mins. Remove the lid/foil after 15-25 min and when the cheese is melted and browned, and then you are done!
Okay, I admit that I just wrote a
recipe; and while I remain allergic to cooking directions, I acknowledge the utility of recipes. If this recipe works for you, let me know, and maybe I will share some more.
I would share some pictures of the end result, but, um. I ate it!