Hog Jowls Day 2: Lima Bean Soup

Lima_Bean_Soup 14

My last post explained why you should love hog jowls, but today I’ve come to the  sad realization that hog jowls and lima beans probably don’t top the list of your favorite foods. They should. Your mother would be thrilled if you would finally learn to like lima beans. Even better, it’s been proven that pork fat is good for you, along with beer, whiskey, and popcorn. (Like every male in America, Fred rejoiced when I broke the news. Then he fell asleep.)

In moderate quantities pork fat can, apparently, help improve your good (HDL) cholesterol and lower your bad (LDL). I’m living proof of this; after a particularly egregious season of bacon eating a few years back, my bad cholesterol was so low, and my good cholesterol so high, that my doctor praised my healthy habits and declared me practically immortal.

Health benefits aside, this soup is just plain good. It is hearty without being heavy and  has an unexpected sweetness, like that of carmelized onions or sun-dried tomatoes. (Note that unsmoked jowl bacon, not the smoked jowls pictured here, is used in this recipe, which is why I’ve suggested guanciale as a possible substitute.)

Lima Bean and Hog Jowl Soup

4 – 5 oz. hog jowl bacon or guanciale, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
3 large carrots, quartered lengthwise & sliced at 1/4″ intervals, or chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups turkey or other good quality poultry broth
4 cups frozen lima beans
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. dried herbes de Provence or thyme
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste

Fry jowl bacon or guanciale on medium high heat in the bottom of 6 qt. or larger pot until crisp. Turn off heat & spoon out all but 2 tablespoons of fat. (Refrigerate fat for a later use or discard.) Add onion and sautee on medium heat until it is translucent, about 5- 10 minutes. Add garlic and stir. Add carrots, bay leaf, herbes de Provence or thyme, and salt; stir briefly until coated with fat. Saute an additional 1 or 2 minutes. Add broth and lima beans. Bring to boil on high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook an additional 20 – 25. Taste and correct salt if needed.

Hog Jowls Day 1: Pasta all’Amatriciana

Smoked Hog Jowls 2013 3I’ve been on a hog jowl kick since January 1. That was the day I trekked into the Piggly Wiggly on Candler Road, seeking lard. (I’m also engrossed in a biscuit experiment.)

If you want lard (and why wouldn’t you?) in Atlanta, skip the stores catering to the middle and upper classes. Go to a poorer end of town. Go to a place like this Piggly Wiggly.

The well-heeled do not shop here. Its only review on Google reads, “Bought some oranges out dis bxtch ; damn oranges had worms.” I knew I was in the right place when I saw the pickled pig’s feet and salt pork on what might have been an old card table near the collards.*

But just past this table, I was distracted from my lard quest by a sign–an orange sign with big black lettering, the kind you might see across a storefront going out of business. SELECTED MEATS 5 FOR $20.

Sensing a bargain, I wandered over and nearly squealed out loud in delight. Jowl bacon, smoked jowls, and other cuts of pork meat you won’t find at Whole Foods were scattered over the shelves, clearly picked over by savvier shoppers looking to make their New Year’s day luckier. I scooped up two pounds of bacon, three pounds of jowl bacon, a package of smoked jowls, my lard, and went home happy.

Return to Pasta all'Amatriciana, with Guanciale

Guanciale from Raleigh Farmers’ Market, 2008

Why get so excited about hog jowls? For me, there’s some nostalgia attached to them, as my grandmother cooked them on New Year’s Day to bring luck. But I also love the fact, as I’ve discussed in a previous post, that hog jowls come from the same cut as guanciale, their upscale Italian cousin.

That cut is the cheek (jowl) of the pig, higher in fat than the back and belly, where most American bacon comes from. But there are important differences. Guanciale is flavored with spices other than salt (rosemary and pepper) and is not smoked, unlike the jowls pictured at the top of this post. (The jowl bacon was prepared like … well, bacon, with sodium nitrite and other things you aren’t supposed to eat.) Guanciale means “pillows” in Italian, and this points to another distinction. As the photo suggests, the fat in guanciale tends to be very soft–almost as if it could be spread, like butter. The smoked jowls I purchased had a consistency closer to bacon, with some chewy bits.

I had no guanciale on hand to compare tastes, but if memory serves the guanciale is more savory (no surprise given the spices). All the jowls I purchased, even the smoked ones, were closer to pancetta in flavor than to bacon–milder and less smokey.

I knew it was time for another round of Pasta all’Amaticiana, the Roman/Amatrician pasta dish made with guanciale, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes. But the jowls required some different techniques. An earlier pizza mishap had taught me that the chewiness of the jowls would be an issue. Moreover, the jowls browned more quickly and rendered, surprisingly, less fat than the guanciale.

I got around these issues first by cooking the jowls with the onions for part of the time, which infused a little moisture into the dry parts. Turkey broth saved the browned bits of meat from burned obscurity at the bottom of the pan, while a long cooking time over slow heat ensured the chewy bits would plump out and tenderize.

This dish started life as a 2008 recipe for bucatini all’Amatriciana in the New York Times. This version produces a thick, rich sauce, infused with pork without being overwhelmed by it, every bit as good as the traditional dish with guanciale and much less expensive. Keep your cost low with a decent domestic Parmesan; nutty Reggiano would be nice too, but the sauce is so flavorful it’s not necessary.

Amatriciana with pork jowls 2013 4
Pasta all’Amatriciana with Hog Jowls

Serves 4

4 – 6 oz. smoked hog jowls, sliced thin (about four 4″ slices)
1 large yellow onion, quartered and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1/4 cup good quality poultry broth (I used turkey)
One 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (make sure they have no salt)
1/4 tsp. sea salt or to taste
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. linguini, fettucini, or other sturdy long pasta

Start frying jowls on medium to medium high heat in large skillet. While jowls are frying, slice onion. Add onions to cooking jowls, which should just be beginning to brown. Watch onions carefully; if bottom of pan begins to turn dark brown, reduce heat.

While onions are sauteing, slice garlic. When onions have just begun to brown, remove jowls and place on cutting board. Turn off heat. Add garlic and chili and stir. Turn heat to medium high. Add broth and scrape browned bits from bottom. Let cook down until only a small amount of liquid remains.

While sauce is reducing, dice jowls. Add back to skillet along with tomatoes. Turn heat to medium low, so that sauce is slowly bubbling. Partially cover and cook about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook an additional 30 minutes, or until sauce is thick.

During the last 20 minutes or so of cooking, put water for pasta on to boil and prepare according to package directions. Drain and return to pot. Pour sauce over pasta and toss. Serve with Parmesan.

NOTE: If you are serving fewer than four, cook only as much pasta as you need and place in serving bowl after draining. Add enough sauce to coat pasta, then refrigerate remaining sauce. Reheat and serve with freshly cooked pasta, adding sauce & Parmesan as needed.

*In my 20s I was startled to learn that most people associate these foods primarily with African Americans. I like to imagine that racial harmony would grow if people would eat together more often.

Mashed Potatoes with Crema Mexicana

Crema Mexicana 2013I don’t get the immigration debate. Why would the U.S. want to keep out any people who have invented something as delightful as crema Mexicana–or any of the other foods from South and Central America? A nation that let lutefisk in but tries to keep empanadas out ought to re-think its policy.

Lutefisk aside, food seems to get better when cultures come together, even under troubling circumstances. Where would Italy be without Native American tomatoes–and where would America be without the pizza and spaghetti that Italian immigrants brought back? Or yams and okra, or tacos and burritos, or bratwurst . . .

These mashed potatoes are the result of just such a fortuitous collision. Crema Mexicana is a close cousin of sour cream, creme fraiche, and quark. Sour cream is the typical substitute north of the border, but crema Mexicana is less tart, richer in taste, and thinner. (Typically, it’s about the consistency of cake batter.) You can make it from scratch, a day or two before you need it, by combining whipping cream and sour cream–one recipe is here. Crema also comes in varieties from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and probably every other country south of the border, and I haven’t encountered any that I didn’t love. (There is a good discussion of the differences here at eGullet.)

Crema Mexicana adds depth and richness to mashed potatoes without stretching them very far past the traditional. Your guests won’t even realize they’re a experiencing fusion cuisine–they’ll just think that they’re eating the best mashed potatoes they’ve ever had.
Mashed Potatoes 2013 15
Mashed Potatoes with Crema Mexicana

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 – 3″ chunks
4 Tbsp. unsalted  butter
1 cup crema Mexicana (NOTE: Some brands are closer to the consistency of sour cream than typical crema Mexicana. If you are using a thicker version, you may need to add more half and half.)
1/4 cup half and half
2 tsp. salt

Put potatoes in a 6-qt. or larger pot and cover with water. Add about 1/2 tsp. salt to water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, on high heat. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook until potatoes are very tender (that is, they break apart easily when pierced with a fork), at least 10 minutes. (NOTE: If pot threatens to boil over, reduce heat to low; this can alter cooking time.)

While potatoes are cooking, measure out other ingredients. Once potatoes are done, drain and return immediately to pot. Add remaining ingredients and cover. Let sit, covered, until you are ready to mash potatoes, up to 30 minutes. (I’m quite careless on this last point and suspect I’ve let them sit up to an hour, but they always seem to be okay.)

At this point you can mash the potatoes with a hand masher or mix with an electric mixer in the pot. If the mix is too dry, add more half-and-half. Once potatoes are blended to the right consistency, taste them, stir in more salt if needed, and serve immediately.

Focaccia with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Onions

Brussels sprouts onions olive oil 16Last week, listening to a radio interview with a chef on the cooking trends we can expect in 2013, I learned that Brussels sprouts are on their way out. Once relegated to the same loathsome realm as beets and liver, they had recently become the darlings of trendy restaurants all over the country, cozying up to lardon-encrusted meats and peeking out from under house-made sauces. But in 2013, poor Brussels sprouts will apparently go the way of last year’s prom queen–still with lots of friends in the popular crowd, but probably not invited to the dance.

Big poo, I say. Brussels sprouts are still trending in our house. Fred has only recently recovered from his childhood aversion to the grayish, mushy lumps that appeared on our plates in the 60s and 70s, and we aren’t going back. Plus, there were some gorgeous ones at the Dekalb Farmers’ Market recently, so I had to do something with them.

I’d also been paging through my tattered copy of “Lidia’s Italy,” a cookbook whose recipes I dearly love but whose binding I hate, and once again came across its wonderful tomato and onion foccacia. Lidia gives you license to do whatever you want with the toppings–so it didn’t seem too much of a leap to Brussels sprouts, onion, and bacon.

We were pleased with the results. The focaccia is tender and light, though definitely best served warm. We loved the smoky bacon combined with the slightly carmelized Brussels sprouts. Salt on top is essential. With a salad or other vegetable (buy extra Brussels sprouts & saute them), it makes a meal.

Plan to eat within two to three days and heat up before eating. But please, don’t do this.

A Fred original Focaccia and meatloaf sandwich

A Fred original: Focaccia and meatloaf sandwich

Recipe: Focaccia with Brussels Sprouts, Onions, and Bacon

Serves 6 – 8 as a meal

4 tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. yeastFoccacia  brussels sprouts bacon
2 1/4 c. warm water
5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
6 – 7 or more large Brussels sprouts (enough for at least 2 cups), halved lengthwise & sliced thin
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced thin
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Finely ground sea salt, or regular salt, to taste
About 1/3 cup olive oil, enough to coat & marinate sprouts, onions, and garlic
6 slices bacon, cut into 1″ lengths
Coarse sea salt to sprinkle over top

DOUGH: Measure water in spouted measuring cup and dissolve yeast in water for a few minutes. Oil a large bowl with about 1 tbsp. olive oil and set aside.

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour flour into food processor and turn it on. With processor running, pour yeast and water through feed tube. Process until dough pulls away from processor bowl, about 30 seconds. If dough is too sticky (some will stick to sides of bowl, but it should pull away), add more flour, a little at a time. If it is too dry, with crumbly bits in the bottom, add a little more water.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead for about a minute. Place into bowl with olive oil, turning once to coat. Cover tightly in plastic wrap and let sit in warm place until doubled, about an hour.

While dough is rising, prepare remaining ingredients and let them marinate. Coat a broiler pan with about 2 tbsp. olive oil. This makes for a thick focaccia; if you would like something thinner, try a large jelly roll pan (17 1/2″ x 12 1/4″).

Have a glass of wine, make a salad, or read for a little while.

If you have a baking stone, place it in the middle rack of your oven. When dough has risen, preheat oven to 425. Punch dough down. Press it into the pan. Sprinkle marinated vegetables and bacon over top, pressing lightly into dough with fingertips, making dimples. Let rise an additional 10 – 15 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt to taste. Bake 20 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees and bake an additional 15 minutes or until dough is light brown. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Squash Casserole

I’ve almost recovered from Christmas.

On December 2Silver Christmas4 and 25, my sister and I are transformed into “elves” (a euphemism for “slaves”) by our mother, as she prepares a meal that could feed 30 but generally includes around 8. Christmas Eve finds me chopping something, fluting pie crusts, making cornbread, emptying the dishwasher, washing measuring cups, and whatever else I am ordered to do. Elsewhere, cheese is grated, squash is peeled, and sage is rubbed. Flour coats clothing and floor.

My 10-year-old niece, elf in training, is lured in for occasional tasks she enjoys, such as making pie filling and peeling potatoes. My heart goes out to her. It won’t be long before my mother will have her battling a turkey-induced stupor as she clears the table and cleans out the coffee pot.

The men avoid the kitchen at all costs and skulk around the edges of the house. I’ve seen Fred wandering outside with his camera, taking pictures of cows.

They do not understand. My brother-in-law’s comment after the Christmas meal on Tuesday is a good example. By then, my sister had collapsed, exhausted, in her room. Fred huddled in a corner of the kitchen, awaiting orders: “Honey, put this sweet potato casserole in the fridge downstairs.” “Honey, would you make sure all the glasses are off the table?” My stepfather had wordlessly gathered pecan pie and coffee and retreated to the empty dining room.

At that moment, my brother-in-law sidled up to me and whispered, “I have a suggestion. Let’s all go in together and have this catered for your parents next year.”

I glared at him. “That’s crazy,” I snapped, my hair falling into my eyes as I rinsed dishes and stuffed them into the overflowing dishwasher.

He crept away.Christmas Spode

What don’t they understand? It’s what my mother said on Christmas Eve, as I was rifling around for the cornbread spoon—an ancient, battered implement used for generations, short-handled and burned in spots, and the only proper thing for stirring the batter. “I don’t care what we do as long as we’re together.” And we’ve been doing this together for over 20 years now. Every year, like childbirth, the pain and the exhaustion fade away, and what you remember is the beautiful thing you created together.

As for the cornbread—I can’t give you the recipe. It’s my stepfather’s, and his recipes are more carefully protected than some embassies in Afghanistan. Even though he’s only recently become aware of the Internet, he’s got an iPhone now (to text my nieces, who probably don’t even know how to use something as outmoded as a phone), word of my betrayal could get out. And I’ve still got a fried chicken recipe to collect.

But I can give you the recipe for the squash casserole. It’s a simple version of this Southern favorite, low on embellishment but high on flavor, texture, and cheesy goodness. Make it with people you love.

Squash CasseroleYellow squash

4 – 6 yellow squash, peeled and sliced into 2” chunks
1 small onion, finely chopped
¼ – ½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ – ½ tsp. garlic salt
¼ – ½ tsp. ground black pepper
6 saltines, crushed
½ cup evaporated milk

Topping:

4 oz. (½ cup) or more sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 tbsp. butter, melted
8 – 10 saltines, crushed

Butter 2-3 quart casserole. Steam squash and onions together until tender. Drain into colander. Press out water with a fork, mashing squash and onions together.

Spoon squash into casserole. Sprinkle with garlic powder, garlic salt, and pepper, or to taste.

Stir in and saltines and evaporated milk. Sprinkle cheese over top. At this point, casserole can be covered and refrigerated for a day.

When you are ready to cook the casserole, preheat oven to 400. Mix together butter and saltines and spread over top of casserole. Bake for about 30 minutes or until topping is lightly browned. Serves 6 as a side dish.

How to Cook Collards (Happy New Year)

Collard_greens_2012If you grew up cooking in the South, you don’t need this post. You have already purchased your black-eyed peas, your pork, and your greens, and you’ll be eating them tomorrow to avoid certain doom in 2013. You know that you must eat black-eyed peas for luck and greens for money, and you put pork in them because your ancestors were so poor they used every scrap of the animal, including the fatty bits, which they threw into every vegetable imaginable.

You also aren’t searching on the Internet for a recipe. But those of you who are obviously need help, and I’m here to offer it.

These days there are all kinds of fancy ways to prepare collards. I’ve made a nice vegetarian version, put them in soups, and even added them to pasta. But for New Year’s, I like to return to the old-fashioned version–simmered in pork and onions, floating around in heavenly “pot likker” ready to be sopped with cornbread or just eaten with a spoon.

I got my collards this year at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market, along with a cheerful group of people from every race looking forward to a fat-filled New Year’s celebration. The greens were piled up nearly to the top of my head, and the bunches were so enormous they had to be put in bags as big as my torso (24″ x 16″, in case you’re wondering). You can get a sense of the size just from the stems:

Collard_green_stems_2012

Collards are pretty forgiving. Don’t worry about following any recipe to the letter, as you will end up making adjustments anyway to suit your taste. That said, here’s my version. A ham hock is more traditional, but as we all know bacon makes everything better.

Happy new year!

Collard Greens

8 qts. collards greens, washed, bottom stems cut off (In other words, use enough collards to fill an 8-qt. pot, loosely packed; their volume will reduce to about a quarter or the original size during cooking. There is no need to remove the large stem running down the center of the leaves unless you prefer–if you do that, however, check on the collards after a half hour for doneness.)

1-2 cups low or no salt chicken or turkey broth (ideally, you made broth from the scraps of your turkey, but if you didn’t, get the best you can)

6 slices bacon, each cut into 6 – 8 pieces

1 large onion, chopped

Several splashes of red wine vinegar

1 – 2 tbsp. white distilled vinegar (the cheap stuff, not white wine)

A few dashes of Tabasco sauce, or to taste

Salt to taste

Chop collards. My method is just to lay 4 – 5 leaves, depending on their thickness, on a cutting board and slice them at 2″ intervals. You can, however, chop them as fine or coarse as you like.

Cook the bacon in an 8 – qt. pot until crisp. Drain off all but about 3 tbsp. of fat. Saute onion on medium low heat until translucent, 5 – 10 minutes. Add broth and greens. Cover and turn heat to medium high. Cook for about 5 minutes or until greens cook down enough to be covered with water. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Reduce heat to a simmer; cover again and cook for about an hour or until greens are tender. Taste and add more Tabasco, vinegar, and salt as desired. Serve with black-eyed peas and cornbread for good luck in 2013!