In agrodolce

Have you all read the most recent Saveur? The feature on cooks in Rome, Eternal Pleasures, makes me want to literally bathe in agrodolce.

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And I’ll admit I came pretty close on Monday. Maiale in agrodolce. Cipolline in agrodolce. Together with some garlicky broccoli. It was pure bliss. Worth running out of the office to go home and make right now. Make some excuse. Tell your boss it’s an emergency. Maybe your kitten is stuck up a tree? It would be worth it, really, if you called your neighbor and asked if they would please stick your kitten (any kitten) up a tree so you could go home. Really.

cippolini onions

Worth it, even, if you don’t think you’re a fan of the sweet and savory combination.  I’ve learned that, in culinary terms, there’s nothing I’m not a fan of — if it’s the right recipe, that is. I mean, I really, really, really dislike foie gras if it’s not done right. But, recently, I licked my foie gras plate clean at Town House in Chilhowie. Oysters will make me gag on most occasions, but I’ve twice gobbled up my fair share, in the Outer Banks, and at Town House, too.  I don’t even like sweet and savory combined in most recipes, and yet here I am, raving about two agrodolce preparations, one for onions, one for pork. Remember when I mentioned that I could bathe in agrodolce? Just ask me if I was kidding.

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The “agro” in both is balsamic vinegar. I used a cheap one, so that it wouldn’t be too sweet on its own. For the onions, the “dolce” is regular white sugar and hydrated raisins; for the pork, it’s honey. Despite the similarities, the two agrodolces have their own flavors. Honey, butter, and rosemary create a round flavor, while the olive oil, sugar and raisins have a sweet tartness. The agrodolce sauce is a bit jumpier on the onions. Perfectly so, especially when you mix just a little bit of it into the honey-butter-rosemary agrodolce marinade you’ve made for the pork.

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You certainly don’t have to make the pork and onions for the same meal, but I thought they worked magic together. Add in this broccoli, and I would say it all works symphonically, if that didn’t risk revealing my extreme dorktitude. But I guess I already did that with the whole bathing in agrodolce thing…

Totally worth it.

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Sweet and Sour Glazed Pork Chops

Printable Recipe

from Saveur Magazine, Issue #128

serves 4

4 10-oz. bone-in pork chops
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary, torn into 1″ pieces

Put pork chops on a plate; drizzle with oil; season generously with salt and pepper; let sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat. Combine vinegar and honey in a 1-qt. saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 1⁄4 cup. Stir in butter and rosemary and set aside.

Put pork chops on grill and cook, occasionally turning and basting with balsamic mixture, until browned and cooked through, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Sweet and Sour Onions

Printable Recipe

from Saveur Magazine, Issue #128

serves 4

1⁄2 cup raisins
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1⁄2 lbs. cipolline onions, peeled
1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1⁄2 tbsp. sugar
Kosher salt, to taste

Put raisins into a small bowl; cover with hot water and let soften for 30 minutes.

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until golden brown, 8–10 minutes; pour off oil. Drain raisins. Add raisins, vinegar, and sugar and season with salt. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, 2–3 minutes.

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Boiled kale.

Winter in New Jersey seems to drag shiveringly on, boring me to tears.  There’s the occasional snowstorm, yes, and I love every minute I spend bundled up beside the windowsill, every glass of scotch. But those snowy nights are fleeting, and then we’re back to the monotonous cold, the rude wind, the car windshield that just won’t defrost. And the cabbage.

kale

Cabbage is certainly reliable, staving off mold, and rot, and drying up all through these months (and months) of cold, when everyone else—the carrots, the apples—have up and left, unable to stick it through.  But, egad, is he boring. Except, of course, with the proper treatment.

wash

Simmered in homemade chicken stock and a knob of butter, cabbage–specifically kale—turns into something silky, tender, willing to fall apart at the touch of your teeth. Boiled kale may not seem sexy, but trust me on this, it incredibly is. When kale comes in from plowing snow all day, and takes off his work boots and Levi jeans, I promise you there are silk boxers underneath. With little red hearts on them.

kale

So let’s talk proper treatment. First of all, you need good stock. Homemade. I’m sorry, but I just can’t budge on that one; homemade stock is not just better than store-bought, it’s a whole different thing altogether. And it’s incredibly easy. Just take a chicken, or a few carcasses from roast chicken dinners, or a few pounds of chicken parts. Put the chicken in a pot and add water to cover the chicken (or carcasses or parts) by an inch of two—it should be around 4 quarts. Bring to a boil, add an onion and a carrot, and a tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring the heat down to low, or whatever heat allows an occasional bubbling of the stock, but nothing like a simmer or a boil. Let it go on like that for about 4 hours, tasting occasionally, until it tastes like chicken and is a beautiful shade of yellow. At this point, I usually let the stock hang out until morning, or at least a few hours, then I strain through a sieve into plastic quart containers and use or freeze. See? Easy. And about a zillion times better than store-bought stock. (The quality of the stock is even more important than the quality of the kale; I’ve made this with kale that’s a week or two past its prime and it tasted delicious. With water? Not so much.)

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Butter, too, is key and, in my opinion, there’s no alternative for it. I mean, I guess you could go for grapeseed oil if you are vegan, or maybe try a high-heat nut oil, but, please, no olive oil. The taste of olive oil changes when it’s heated at a high heat, and in this recipe, that change is totally perceptible. It’s the difference between this kale being fanatic-making good and it’s being just good. Butter, on the other hand, helps the texture, coaxing every bit of luxuriousness out of the kale. And if you like the taste of olive oil with kale, just drizzle some on top after it’s cooked. Problem solved. That’s about it; with chicken stock, and butter, and enough cooking time that the kale becomes meltingly soft and silky and deeply kale flavored, there’s nothing better to beat the cold. I could (almost) have winter all year long.

boiled kale

Boiled Kale

serves 4

    I’ve met resistance when encouraging others to eat boiled kale. I have a hunch that it has something to do with the “raw” foods craze, and the fact that “boiled” anything reminds us of flavorless food with all its nutrients leached out. But that is not the case here. This recipe involves boiling the kale in chicken stock and then letting everything simmer until the liquid evaporates, vitamins intact, leaving the kale tender and coated in a silky slip. Maybe it’s the name, so call it whatever will help: “Melted” Kale, Braised Kale, “Shut up and Eat Your Vegetable Because You Will Like Them” Kale… whatever works.About salting: I salt my kale after it’s cooked down. This may be heresy, and may mean that the kale is not salted properly to its core, but considering every bunch of kale is not the same size, and the chicken stock may be evaporating at different speeds (however negligible) on any given day, it’s safest for me to salt after so I don’t overdo it.

1 pound kale leaves, from 2 very large kale bunches
4 cups homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt

Wash kale thoroughly (using a salad spinner helps.)

To remove the kale’s leaves from stems, holding one piece at a time, run a sharp chef knife against each side of the stem, stripping the leaves off and leaving only the stem in your hand. Otherwise, lay a few pieces on top of each other and use your knife to cut the stems out. Or, strip them off with your hands, holding the stem with one hand and using your other hand to pull the leaf away from you until it comes off the stem.

Coarsely chop kale leaves. Add them to a large dutch oven or pot and pour 4 cups of homemade chicken stock over. (If there are bits of chicken stock gelatin sticking to the inside of the container, scrap that in too.) Add butter. Turn the heat to medium high and bring stock to a boil. If the kale is particularly unwieldy, or your pot isn’t quite big enough, you can put the cover on for a few minutes until it wilts some. Once it is boiling, cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid all but evaporates and the kale is silky and tender, about 45 minutes. If the kale doesn’t taste tender enough, and the liquid is already gone, add a splash more and cook until the kale meets your liking.

Salt to taste. Serve.

Maple Roasted Squash

Sorry to be away so long, I’ve been missing this blog lately, but migraines, MRI’s, and doctor’s visits have kept me away (not to mention all the applesauce making and pork shoulder braising…) but today, on one of my first migraine-free days, I couldn’t resist it anymore, I had to post.  There’s a lot of stuff I want to tell you guys.

Squash

I recently found out about a fantastic food blog through the equally fantastic language blog, Language Hat.  This food blog, The Language of Food, is similar to Harold McGee’s Curious Cook in that it let’s me think about food and get my nerd on at the same time.  These types of blogs hold a special place in my Google Reader, and are read religiously because, while I adore great photography, and baking babies, studies in food really whet my appetite. (Hardy har har. Can you tell I’ve been totally out of it?)

Ready to be roasted.

Dan’s most recent post sparked my interest, and hunger, a few weeks ago.  The topic is dessert; he ate subjected himself to a bacon doughnut, and the experience spurred Dan’s thinking about the mixing of savory and sweet in desserts, and main courses, and about desserts in general.  I’d love to recount some of the insightful, educated things Dan says, but I think I mentioned the two weeks of migraines I just had, and well, brain don’t work so good.  So you’ll have to go there (go on, click) and read for yourself. (Please do, too, it’s a great read.)

Squash, peeled

The post got me thinking, in a much less articulate way, about my own food tastes.  I only recently started mixing sweet with savory.  As a kid, I didn’t understand applesauce with pork.  As a self-satisfied twenty year old, I thought that I had exceptionally nuanced tastebuds, and that was why I was so skimpy with the chutney I added to my cheese (my woefully unstinky cheese).  But recently, as adulthood continues to humble me, I realize I was all wrong.  It started with a dish of thyme roasted apples and onions (I promise to post it soon) that I could not get enough of.  I was giddy, ecstatic, repeating over and over to Jim how happy I was with this dish that I’d cooked (yes, I did say humble in the last sentence, so what?) I couldn’t believe how well the sweet apples played against the onions and thyme.  I made the dish over and over again.  And then I realized that I needed more of this sweet/savory combination.

Salt, pepper, maple, olive oil

Maple roasted squash was next.  I’d always thought squash was itself sweet enough, no maple syrup, or brown sugar, or marshmellows were needed.  But given my new-found love of sweet thyme roasted apples, maple roasted squash would be a test.  If I liked it, that would be it: I would forever be a girl who embraces sweet things with her savory courses. (I have big dreams, I know.)  The squash turned out lovely, subtly sweet; the maple syrup lending a warming quality, offset by the bits of charred edges and the round, clean flavor of olive oil, and,  totally autumnal.

Suffice it to say, I’m that girl.  A little sweeter than I used to be, and better off for it.

Maple Roasted Squash

Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash

This is hardly a recipe: I don’t want to give quantitative amounts because who am I to tell you what size squash to get?  Uniformity is not a squash’s strong suit, so don’t get too caught up with finding the perfectly sized one for your recipes.  Just go for an approximate size, and use your better judgement with the rest of the ingredients.  This particular recipe is forgiving; just start slow with the maple syrup, and remember that you can always add a touch more olive oil, or salt, to mellow out the flavor.

2 small acorn squash, peeled, cut in half, deseeded, and sliced
a glug or two of maple syrup
a more generous glugging (or two) of olive oil
a big pinch of salt
a big pinch, or grinding, of black pepper
chives, for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Have a baking sheet pan, lined with parchment paper or a silpat, ready.  In a large bowl, add the squash, maple syrup, olive oil, salt, and pepper and mix well with your hands.  Tip the contents of the bowl out onto the baking sheet, letting all the excess oil pour out, too.  Put the pan in the oven and bake to your desired donneness (I like mine a bit charred), anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.  Serve garnished with some snipped chives, if you like.

P.S. Have you heard that Barry Estabrook has started a blog?  He did. Cue ethical-meat-eater’s rejoice.

P.S.S. (Or is it P.P.S.?)  I have a Muntz fix for all you cat lovers, posted on my friend’s blog. You’re welcome. Update: More Muntz, this time it’s a video! (with sound)