Archive for March, 2012

Me and My Butcher


There are times I swear my Butcher understands my needs better than anyone, which is why two weeks ago when I placed an order for an 8 pound picnic pork shoulder, deboned and butter flied I was admittedly disappointed when “Butch’s” response was “Come in kid-show me what you want to do.”

That Saturday, on a hot summer’s morning, I was taken to a place I’ve only imagined but never actually seen the back of the butcher shop.  The behind the scenes footage was everything I’d hoped it be complete with a bikini clad blonde outstretched above the month of August pined to the side wall.

“Don’t mind her she’s my ex wife” Butch said while throwing an apron over my head.  He then laid the pork shoulder on a clean cutting board and handed me a knife.

“Bet you don’t have them sharp like this in your kitchen” He’s not kidding!

I carefully examined the meat.  I needed one flat piece to stuff and roll I was looking for the right angle to go in. Butch raised an unbelieving eyebrow and patted me on the shoulder. “They don’t make them like you anymore-take your time kid-just holla when your ready to wrap.”

Apron around neck and knife in hand I made a note of my surroundings.  Everything was so sterile, frigid and yet I felt so comfortable this way, invigorated, I thought about asking Butch for an apprenticeship, learn the trade…

However I was running thirty minutes behind on my cooking schedule and so I took a deep breath looked at the shoulder once more and made a decisive incision.  When Butch came back, he nodded with his pursed lips all gathered to the right side of his face.

“Oh, so like a big Braciole, I get it.” Approval granted I thanked him and went home to make…


Like a Big Braciole (But Better)

7-8 pd picnic pork shoulder deboned and butterflied
1 pound of guanciale (cured pork cheek) *you can sub slab bacon
1 head of garlic
fennel fronds from one large bulb
40 fresh sage leave
An actual pinch of anise (toasted)
8 sprigs of fresh rosemary
¼ cup of dried Sicilian or Calabrese oregano
4 red onions
1 pound small yellow potatoes
1 cup of good quality dry red wine
Butchers twine
olive oil

*Please note that this recipe was adapted from La Cucina Italiana

First things first…lay the meat on a clean surface and season with salt and pepper, Preheat the oven to 250 degrees, quarter the onions, potatoes and place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. With a sharp knife slice the guanciale or slab bacon into ¼ inch pieces and set aside.

In a food processor combine the garlic, fennel fronds, sage, rosemary, anise, and oregano, pulse gently with about ¼ cup of olive oil.  Spread entire herb mixture onto the pork shoulder.

Cut a yard of butchers twine and hang around your neck, if not for practical purposes, this adds a terrific dramatic effect, like season pro type stuff…

Careful not to let any of the herb mixture fall out, roll the pork tightly like jelly roll.  Once rolled, carefully cover the outside of the shoulder with the guanciale (or slab bacon) and begin to tie the meat wrapping the string horizontally and then vertically underneath and back again, honestly do it in any way that keeps the pork tightly together it doesn’t have to look pretty it has to taste good!

Place your rolled pork on top of the onions and potatoes and roast dry for 2 hours at 250 degrees.

After two hours have passed take the pork out of the oven and pour the wine over the meat, spoon up all the good bits and baste.  Place back in the oven for 2-3 hours more until the meat is very tender, basting at least every thirty minutes.

Let your pork take a break (which means don’t put a knife to the meat for a good twenty minutes) then slice and serve with the onions, which are at this point almost pure sugar, the potatoes, some semolina bread, the rest of that good red wine and DEVOUR!


New Twist on an Olfactory


I think the olfactory is the most potent memory inducing of all the senses.  In the kitchen I can combine just a few ingredients for the sake of time travel.  Thin slices of zucchini layered carefully with whole mint leaves, a sprinkle of sea salt and a generous drizzle of olive oil is just the kind of dish to make when you are missing your grandmother in the last months of summer.

Baked Zucchini with Mint & Rictotta Salata

4 medium sized zucchini
1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup pignola nuts
1/2 cup olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
2 tblsp dried oregano
1 cup whole mint leaves
1/4 pound ricotta salata
salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor combine the bread crumbs and pignola nuts, add the oregano, salt and pepper.   Pulse gently while streaming in the olive oil until all ingredients are incorporated.  If the breadcrumb mixture appears too oily simply add more crumbs, too dry more oil.  Pat mixture into the bottom of a low casserole or pie pan and toast in the oven at 300 degrees for approximately 10 minutes.

Tomato Basil Pasta

There are many things about summer which are easy to love.  For me this includes, but is not limited to the smell of fresh tomato sauce through the heat of the mid afternoon sun.  The way the aroma of basil permeates the thickness of the air and envelops you with memories that tickle the base of your stomach…The mind and gut are connected.  My family makes a red sauce all year long, in the fall and winter the tomatoes are usually studded with ground pork, beef braciole, or sweet fennel sausage, all of which are delicious, but to me it’s the summer tomato sauce that is the simplest, most palate friendly and fond memory inducing.

I like to include a sprinkle of fennel pollen (if you can find it) and so much basil it might appear as though I were about to prepare a pesto!  The fragile green leaves delicately dance with the ripe tomatoes until the heat and the spoon stir them to wilted exhaustion.  Tossed with fusilli (a personal favorite even if slightly infantile)  or any pasta to your liking and sprinkled with fresh parmigiano reggiano, this meal is a (un) labor of love, and makes me feel as though my Grandmother were standing behind me in the kitchen, her chin resting on my shoulder as she gently nods in approval.

Fresh Tomato Basil Pasta

1 28 oz can San Marzano whole tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups fresh basil
pinch, sprinkle, shake of fennel pollen
pinch red pepper flakes
sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 pd Fusilli

Bring a large pot of cold water and a good amount of sea salt to a boil for the pasta.  Cook according to instructions.

While the pasta is cooking…

In a large sauce pan heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and saute until slightly golden.  Add the tomatoes and crush them with the back of a fork (You may also do the crushing by hand in a bowl prior to putting them into the pot).  Bring to a gentle simmer.  Add the basil*, salt, pepper,fennel pollen and red pepper flakes, cook for twenty minutes.  Toss with cooked Fusilli and 1/4 cup of the pasta water reserved for mixing.  Toss together and sprinkle with parmigiano reggiano cheese.

*Vincenza never took the knife to a basil leaf, opting instead for a gentle tearing over a steming pot.