It’s been a New Year’s resolution of mine for a few years to make polenta – i always enjoy it in restaurants yet have never cooked it myself. Yesterday was the day!
My dear friend Laura who lives in Florence sent me a wonderful Tuscan cookbook for my birthday and after a long 3 days completing the 3 Peaks Challenge the Tuscan Ragu recipe provided inspiration for a comforting, warming, tasty dish that kept me happy in the kitchen yesterday afternoon.
For the Ragu
1 Carrott – diced
2 sticks Celery – diced
1 Onion – diced
2 Cloves Garlic – finely chopped
Sprinkle dried Chilli and Oregano
20g Pancetta Cubes
300g Minced Pork
2 Sausages – remove the skin and mash the meat
Handful Chestnut Mushrooms – chopped
Handful dried Porcini Mushrooms – chopped (save the soaking liquid)
3/4 Pint Sangiovese Wine (or any Italian Red)
1 tin Chopped Tomatoes
1 tin Plum Tomatoes
3/4 Pint Beef stock
Handful Basil leaves – torn
For the Polenta
5tbsp Extra Fine Polenta (Cornmeal)
2 Bay Leaves
2 handfuls Grated Parmesan
In a large saucepan, gently fry the celery, onion and carrott in some olive oil until softened. This is a classic trilogy of ingredients called a Mirepoix or Soffritto and provides the flavour base for the dish. After 15 minutes or so, add the pancetta , garlic and the dried herbs and continue to sautee for another 10 minutes.
Add in the pork mince and sausage meat – mix thoroughly and mash together. Stir in the mushrooms and a sprinkle of ground nutmeg and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the wine in – don’t be surprised by how red the dish turns, allow the wine to reduce and once the mixture is dry, add in the stock, porcini liquid and tomatoes. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for at least an hour – add more stock if the dish starts to dry out.
Meanwhile, make the polenta. Boil the bay leaves in a pan on a medium heat in 3/4 pint of water with some salt and olive oil. Add the polenta and whisk to avoid lumps. Turn the heat down and continue to whisk – add more water if needed. After 20-30 minutes the mixture should thicken up – you want it the consistency of a very creamy mash potato. At this point stir in the parmesan and add black pepper to taste.
To serve, scatter the basil leaves into the ragu and amend any seasoning.
Place the polenta at the base of the bowl with the ragu on top. Enjoy this warming, autumnal dish with some kale, tenderstem broccoli and sauteed sprouts.
I want to share this recipe mainly as a reminder to myself of how to get great crackling! I finally achieved a deliciously golden crunchy crackle atop juicy, fragrant pork belly.
As a lighter, something different, as recommended by Ottelenghi in his Nopi cookbook I made a walnut and apple salsa to serve alongside the pork with some sauteed potatoes and kale and sprouts.
For the Pork
1kg Pork Belly
Half a Lemon
Coarse Sea Salt
12 Sprigs Thyme
10 Cloves Garlic – crushed, with skin on
10cm Ginger – sliced
4 tsp Lemongrass Paste
500ml White Wine
For the Salsa
1 Apple – diced
50g toasted walnuts – chopped
50g pickled walnuts – chopped
Small handful of chopped tarragon
2tbsp Lime Juice
1tbsp Rice Vinegar
2tbsp Olive Oil
Pre-heat oven to 200degs – it needs to be very hot to achieve good crackling. Get the pork and pork skin as dry as you can – I left mine out of the fridge at room temperature on a plate for an hour. Rub the lemon half all over the skin ensuring the juice covers the top – and leave for 10 minutes. Once 10 minutes had passed, rub the skin thoroughly with the salt.
Place the herbs and aromats in a roasting tray and pop the pork belly on top – skin side up. Pop in the oven for an hour.
After the hour, the skin should be hard, golden and cracked! Rub any excess salt off and shower again with a little more salt – pop back into the oven for another 30 minutes.
The next step involves carefully pouring the wine and water into the roasting tray ensuring none of it goes onto the top – we dont want to lose the crackle!
Back into the oven again (yes I know its a lot of in and out, opening and closing the oven door!) at a lower temperature of 175degs for 45 minutes.
Now its time to make the salsa – simply mix all the ingredients together. For the pickled walnuts, i warmed a mixture of white wine vinegar and sugar with some peppercorns and left the walnuts in it for 30 minutes. This little salsa is a refreshing, zingy accompanyment to the rich pork.
When the pork is ready you should be able to cut through the crackling and straight into a silky soft layer of fat on top of the moist meat. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes. Serve in beautiful slices with the salsa and some greens.
Good Luck – may the crackle be with you!
Elix is away so what better chance to have ourselves a little experiment with Roast Pork Chop which she pulls a face at each time I suggest I cook it for dins.
This meal is super simple and despite the stonking size of the pork chop is a good, light meal for a warm evening.
As im getting further down the very enjoyable road of becoming a nutritionist I am mindful of what goes into each meal ensuring my diet is balanced.
This meal is protein rich, sugar free and packed with 3 of your 5-a-day. The Apples provides fiber and sweetness without sugar, sweet potato is rich in Vitamin C and fennel is good for lowering cholesterol.
Coconut Oil is one of the only types of saturated fats which reduces bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol in the body.
2 Pork Chops (bone in) – seasoned with salt and pepper
3tbsp Chicken Stock
3tbsp Cider Vinegar
1tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tbsp Coconut Oil
1 handful Asparagus – sliced in half
1 Medium Sweet potato – thinly sliced
1 Apple – cut into 8
1 Fennel bulb – thinly sliced
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degs. Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan, add the pork and sweet potato and fry for a few minutes before flipping everything over to the other side. Remove from the pan and add in the rest of the veggies for a few minutes.
Pop the sauteed vegetables into a roasting dish and top with the sweet potato and pork chop.
Stir together the mustard, stock and vinegar and pour this over everything in the roasting dish.
Roast for 20 minutes and devour!
It was a frugal evening at home tonight making the most of leftover pork mince from the Mee Krob aswell as making sure we were eating plenty of veggies after a big few days holidaying in Mallorca (lots of bread, wine, tapas, paella and crisps – my holiday staple!). I decided on Mexican as we haven’t had it in a while and its a good variation to all the asian and spanish flavours i’ve been eating recently. I took inspiration from a Rick Stein idea of Middle Eastern lamb stuffed aubergine and made it Mexican….with Pork!
Onto the health part – aubergine helps to remove toxins from the body providing a good balance of blood sugar and water levels. Aubergines have digestive benefits and are good for the heart. This recipe also has a fair bit of chilli im it. I used fresh green chilli, dried morito chilli and chipotle chilli paste. All varieties of chilli, including dried contain the oil capsaicin which provides both the strong, spicy flavour as well as antioxident and anti-inflammatory effects. These, in turn, give chilli the powers of lowering cholesterol, balancing blood sugar and supressing appetite which are all good for detoxification. Whilst pork mince isnt the healthiest meat to use, pork generally is a good source of vitamin B and had useful amounts of zinc and iron which are good for energy release. I used extra lean mince to further reduce fat content.
The dish is spicy and smokey to taste, balanced by the creaminess of the feta and sweetness of the tomatoes. It is light, carb free and gluten free.
Start by halving the aubergine lenghthways and scoring the flesh. Lay skin-side down on a baking tray and roast in a 200deg oven for 30 minutes.
Whilst this is cooking, heat some olive oil in a pan and start to fry the onion, as it softens, add the pork and cook. Once the pork is cooked add in the pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper and chopped red and green chilli. Mix well and combine the chopped tomatoes and chipotle chilli paste. Once the aubergine is softened, gently scoop out the flesh (be careful to leave the skin in tact on the baking tray) and mix in with the pork mixture.
Place the mixture back into the aubergine skin, scatter with feta cheese (as much or as little as you like!) and pop back in the oven to heat through for 10 minutes.
Serve with extra veggies or brown rice if you fancy a carb kick!
Its taken me a while to get this recipe on here and I don’t know why because it was so tasty and I was so proud of my little self for coming up with such a nice dinner, it’s one I want documented as I’m sure its going to be a regular dish on our dinner table!
Mee Krob is Thai for crispy noodles and this dish comprises pork and prawns with veg and noodles with a sweet and sour dressing scattered with delightful crispy noodles on top for crunch and toastiness. The dish is light, tasty and sweet and can be cooked with any meat or seafood, im keen to try prawn and tofu next time.
100g Vermicelli/Rice Noodles
50g Minced Pork
6 Mushrooms -sliced
2 heads Pak Choi
4 Spring Onions – sliced
6 Mini Corn – sliced lengthways
40ml White Vinegar
40ml Fish Sauce
1 Clove Garlic – finely diced
1 Red Chilli – finely diced
1 handful Coriander – chopped
So first for the crispy noodles – I shallow fried mine in sunflower oil in a small frying pan. Heat the oil and when hot, take a handful of the noodles and break up, gently scatter them in the oil, within seconds they will be puffing up and sizzling, remove them and place on some kitchen paper and put to one side. they should stay crispy when cooled.
Place the remaining noodles in a
bowl of boiling water, cover and leave to soften for 8 minutes.
Transfer the oil from the noodles to a wok or larger frying pan and cook the mince. Whilst the pork is cooking, mix together the vinegar, fish sauce and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Add this dressing to the pan with the prawns and veggies and bring to the boil. Once the veggies have softened slightly add the garlic and chilli. Whisk the egg and season with a little salt and pepper, quickly pour this into the pan and stir so the egg scrambles and icorporates with the mixture. By now the noodles will have cooked and can be mixed in with the pork and prawns. Stir everything together and toss the coriander in for the last few seconds.
Serve with the crispy noodles scattered on top!