A Project, in 3 Parts

September 2, 2010 § 1 Comment


Blog post 3 and still no cake. Sorry folks: I do have something up my sleeve that will deliver on the butter, flour and sugar promise but it’s going to have to wait. Well, it’s only fair that one of the best things I have ever cooked takes precedence, right? I’m talking about roast pork and braised cabbage ravioli, no less. A dish that fits very squarely into my patented formula for calculating likely food enjoyment, which is that said enjoyment goes up proportionally when a dish has taken longer to cook but is eaten quickly (ideally with nothing but a fork or hands). Given that the all the stages of this recipe add up to a couple of days of cooking and about 10 minutes of final prep and eating (15 if you’re particularly civilized), this recipe is off the scale.

I now feel the need to state loudly and up-front: this is not the way I usually cook on a weeknight. Hell, it’s hardly the way I cook on a weekend either. Accept that this is a project to be saved for a rainy day (or two) in the kitchen and you’re less likely to run screaming from the number of elements you will need to prepare. Also know that there are some valuable recipes in their own right buried in this dish which is why I am breaking the post into 3 installments.

There’s a teeny bit of personal context too. I’m on a few months’ leave from work at the moment, while I swap over from one kind of work permit to another. This nightmare-turned-dream situation has left me with plenty of opportunity to lavish time and attention on personal projects and my ubiquitous piles of cookbooks have been lazily picked over and are now bursting with post-it notes and bookmarks. When we got a date in the diary for a long-overdue dinner to say thank you to some friends, I decided to take the luxury of spending a week cooking and this ravioli dish came out, deservedly so, as the star of the show.

Part 1: The Pork and the Cabbage

You will need leftover roast meat to make these ravioli – ideally pork – although beef and veal are appropriate substitutions. The recipe I offer here is a fine choice as the herby, savory flavours that nestle around the meat as it roasts are later incorporated into the ravioli filling in perfect synergy with the cabbage. It also provides a knock-out supper of roast pork sandwiches in the interim.

The recipe comes from a cherished cookbook from my favourite food writer: Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries. British readers are undoubtedly familiar with Nigel (indeed, this very book came out at number 4 in the recent Observer newspaper list of their 50 top cookbooks) but I think he is a bit under-recognized here in the US. The Kitchen Diaries holds a special place in my heart: it was the book that inspired me to cook day in and day out, to get down to the farmer’s market and to pay attention to seasonality. This now feels so elemental sitting here in California but back in the depths of winter in Cambridge, with barely anything but carrots and turnips to hand for 3 months of the year, it was a much more revolutionary shift of mindset.

Find a piece of pork that has a decent amount of fat, such as a belly or butt cut. You’ll roast it with the fat (and skin for the belly cut) side down and it will simultaneously crisp up and yield fat to keep the onion moist as it caramelizes. The kitchen will fill with the heady aroma of the fennel seeds over the course of the roasting hour. Make sure you spread some of the blackened onion mix over your roll before loading it with the pork. You will blitz the rest later with the pork for the filling, although you will need to harness all self-restraint not just to load up a second sandwich.

Roasted Pork, adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

You are going to need around 8oz/225g leftover meat for the ravioli. Use that as your starting point and cook as much additional meat as you want for sandwiches. You’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly of course: make sure you have cooked all the pink out of the meat before serving.

1 onion
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic
a couple of sprigs of rosemary
3 large, fresh bay leaves
a handful of black peppercorns (18 or so)
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 lemon
a piece of pork with plenty of fat, such as a belly or butt cut (for sandwiches for 2 plus sufficient leftover meat I used a piece weighing approximately 3lbs (including some bone) but you can scale up as needed)

Heat the oven to 350 F/180 C/Gas mark 4 and bring the meat out of the fridge so it begins to come to room temperature.
Thinly slice the onion and peel and finely chop the garlic. Soften the onion in the olive oil in a Dutch oven or oven-safe casserole over a reasonably high heat. Once the onion is translucent and soft, stir in the chopped garlic.
Finely chop the leaves from the rosemary and stir this into the onion and garlic mixture. Then chop and add the bay leaves. Crush the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar (or with the back of a knife) and stir them into the onion along with the fennel seeds and a good pinch of salt. Let this all cook until it turns golden in colour and becomes aromatic. Squeeze in the lemon juice, using it to dissolve any part of the mixture that has stuck to the pan.
Salt and pepper the pork and make a space in the middle of the onion mix in the Dutch oven where you can place the piece of meat. Put the meat into the pan skin or fat side down and nestle the onion mix close to the meat. My 3lbs piece of pork butt took around 1hr 15 mins to cook: you will need to monitor the size and cut of your own piece and adjust accordingly. If in doubt, use a meat thermometer. You may also need to poke at the onion from time to time during the cooking process to stop it from sticking.
Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes before thinly slicing for the sandwiches, along with a smear of the now blackened onion and some bitter salad greens. The remainder can sit sliced or not well-covered in the fridge until you are ready to use it for the ravioli filling.

Braised Cabbage: Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

If you are a person who plans ahead, you might well be able to organize your eating for the week such that you also end up with leftover cabbage. It’s an especially fine accompaniment to some grilled sausages. But the braising process here is fast and simple enough that making the cabbage just for the purpose of the ravioli doesn’t feel ridiculous. I did mine just after the pork went in the oven.

1 savoy cabbage
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
½ cup white wine
½ cup water or broth

Chop the cabbage into halves, then quarters. Remove the core and any tough outer leaves and then cut into slices of around finger thickness.
Heat the oil in a large pan, add the cabbage slices and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or thereabouts, when it will be starting to soften.
Add the herbs along with a generous pinch of salt and a couple of twists of black pepper. Add the wine and cook for a further 5 minutes, until reduced.
Add the water, bring to a boil, then cover the pan and turn the heat to a simmer. Cook until the cabbage is tender and most of the liquid has disappeared: 15-20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste and season. If you are serving the cabbage hot, you might want to add some butter for richness, but this isn’t
necessary if the cabbage is just for the filling. For the filling cabbage, cool to room temperature, cover and leave in the fridge until you are ready to use it (you need around 7oz/200g but there is scope for flexibility if you end up with a bit more or a bit less).

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