lifestyle

Pork, porcini and juniper berries: Rachel Roddy's New Year's Eve recipes


Pork with juniper and porcini

There are two emporiums in Testaccio. One is ancient, and in ruins. The other is a shop, not much larger than an emperor-sized double bed, just off the main piazza. The ancient L’Emporio, built between 193 BC and 174 BC, was a river port where goods from all over the globe (Empire), notably olive oil from Hispania Baetica, Libya and Turkey; and durum wheat from North Africa, Egypt and Sicily, were docked, unloaded and moved into storage. Excavated remains of both the port and warehouses punctuate Testaccio nonchalantly; a colossal arch butting up against a 19th-century block of flats here, a section of quay there.

The other L’Emporio – the bed-sized one – opened in 2007, and is a docking point for spices, herbs and teas. My son likes to point out that it is a smelly shop, and twitches his nose like a dog when we are near. This takes me back to my own smelly shop: a coffee roaster on Harpenden High Street run by two elderly sisters, who used to give young customers two malted milk biscuits in paper packets with cotton drawstring one of them had made. A gift I loved, but also suspected.

It is extraordinary how smells and tastes of childhood stay with you when accompanied by something disquieting. I wonder how my son will remember the Tardis-like shop, with its library of jars and tins, and spiced air, the free apricots and Rossana sweets. Not that I am suggesting anything disquieting about the marvellous Emporio delle Spezie, although it is a bit magical. It is also practical. Almost everything is sold by weight, and no weight is too small; you can buy one nutmeg or 10 cloves, 10g or half a kilo of garam masala, 20g of pine nuts or 30 juniper berries.

Juniper berries are also magical, according to some, offering protection against devils, malevolent spirits and wild animals, even epidemics (at this point I am willing to try anything, although I probably have to put some kind of disclaimer here). Magic, and also medicine (and again here); the tiny sloe-like blueish-black berries are full of volatile oils, tannins, bitters substances, formic and acetic acid, sugar and fat, the effect of which is a bit like eating raisins, resin, leather and rosemary at the same time. Chewed or made into tea, some say they are stimulating for the appetite and digestion, have a diuretic effect and increase perspiration, soothe aches and catarrh. In short, (if used carefully and moderately) a natural medicine of universal use. In her book Herb Gardening: Why and how to grow herbs, Claire Loewenfeld suggests boiling 12 juniper berries in 150ml water for 15 minutes, then straining – a universal tea for a great number of conditions.

Then there are the branches with awl-shaped pointed needles, which, when burned, are said to improve the air. It was apparently a custom of the Swiss schools to burn juniper branches in classrooms in the morning to disinfect the air, particularly in winter when ventilation was restricted. Now I am not advocating that anyone burns anything anywhere, and especially not in a classroom. However, there are a few people, political and otherwise, I would like to shake a branch at.

Juniper berries are one of the best spices; when braised or simmered, the raisin, resin, leather and rosemary flavour is subdued and changes, merging as something between bay, rosemary, sage and pepper, with just a hint of spice and heat. Elisabeth Luard reminds us that it is particularly good with game, venison and beef, also pork – in terrines or stews – and with mushrooms and potatoes, braised carrots and celery. They are also an important ingredient in any warm, spiced wine. However you simmer, bake, or infuse them, the berry remains edible. Having given lots of its flavour away, it is like a leathery, bitter-sweet currant; delicious; also protective or magic, if you want to see it that way, its scent clearing the air for the new year.

Strictly speaking, juniper berries are tiny, fleshy cones that, when crushed, release a bitter, spicy flavour; perfect in gin or with pork, especially shoulder. The beauty of this recipe, inspired by Marcella Hazan, is that it can be made (bar any reduction) in advance, which is useful when the night is long and timings easy-going. You could serve it with mashed potato or polenta, but I suggest herbed potatoes with crisp edges and soft insides, and cabbage and chestnuts.

Pork with juniper and porcini

Go gently when crushing the juniper berries; you want to break them, not obliterate them. A heavy-based pan with a well-fitted lid is important, as is slow cooking a careful reduction, so you have thickened (and enough) rich juices.

Prep 15 min
Soak 30 min
Cook 2½ hr
Serves 4-6

20 juniper berries
20g dried porcini
6 tbsp olive oil
1.2kg boned pork shoulder,
cut into 3cm cubes
1 small onion, peeled and diced
200ml dry white wine
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
3 anchovies
1 tsp dried oregano
2 fresh bay leaves

Working gently with a pestle and mortar, or with the back of a heavy knife, crush the juniper berries so they crack and split. Soak the dried mushrooms in 300ml warm water for 30 minutes, then strain, saving the soaking liquid, and roughly chop the porcini.

In a large, deep saute pan or casserole, warm the olive oil, then, working in batches, brown the pork on all sides; remove to a plate.

In the same pan, and over a low heat, soften the onion, then return the pork, and add the wine, vinegar and porcini soaking liquid, and raise the heat. Leave everything to bubble for a minute, then add the anchovies, porcini, juniper berries and bay, and bubble a little longer.

Cover, turn down the heat to low and cook for an hour and a half to two hours, or until the meat is very tender with abundant juices.

Lift out the pork, return the pot to the stove and reduce the juices slightly, then return the pork, adjust the seasoning to taste, and serve.

Herb roast potatoes

Don’t skimp on the olive oil or the herbs; the final cubes should be crisp with a rough and fragrant coat of rosemary and oregano. Depending on your baking tray, you might be able to shake the tin to turn the cubes, but I find I need to lift and toss them with a fish slice, so they cook evenly and get golden edges.

Prep 10 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 4-6

1.3kg potatoes
8 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pinch
red chilli flakes
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
2 tbsp dried oregano

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Peel and cut the potatoes into 2cm dice, then transfer to a bowl, add the oil, salt, chilli flakes, garlic, rosemary and half the oregano, and toss thoroughly.

Tip on to a baking tray and slide into the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, turning the potatoes twice, adding the second tablespoon of oregano in the last five minutes. By the end of cooking, the potatoes should be golden with crisp edges. Serve hot.

Cabbage, shallot and chestnuts

A familiar and good combination, which can also be prepared in advance; the cabbage steamed, the shallots and chestnuts cooked and combined. Once you are almost ready to eat, put the shallot and chestnut pan back on the heat (maybe with a little more butter), then add the cabbage and turn until heated through.

Prep 5 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 4-6

1 large savoy or 2 hispi cabbage, trimmed and cut into eight wedges
3 tbsp olive oil
30g butter
3 shallots
, peeled and finely sliced
250g peeled, roast chestnuts
(vacuum-packed work beautifully)

Steam or boil the cabbage until just tender.

In a large frying pan, warm the oil and butter, then fry the shallot with a pinch of salt, until soft. Stir in the chestnuts, cook for a minute or two, then add the cabbage and toss gently, adding a bit more butter, if you think it needs it, and lots of black pepper. Taste for seasoning, then serve.



READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more