Saturday, April 29, 2017

Skillet Pasta with Smokey Pork and Tomatoes

Spring sunshine and cool temperatures called for sweaters and a brisk pace on today's late morning walk. We set out to investigate the sound of chainsaws, near enough to be easily audible indoors. Several lots uphill we found a tree-felling crew taking down four tall evergreens, twelve to sixteen inches or more in diameter. Rumor has it another neighbor purchased the "view rights" on two adjacent properties and cleared the trees to improve their lake view. You can buy view rights? forever? We shook our heads and walked on, lamenting the continuing loss of tall timber in the neighborhood.

Hunger pangs struck as soon as we returned and I quickly gathered miscellaneous ingredients from fridge and pantry. Pork, tomatoes, onions, parsley, Parmesan and pasta soon surrounded the cooktop. Smoked pork bones pack a hefty flavor punch; too smoke-heavy and salty to use "as is". Their smokey saltiness can be overwhelming so I tame them with a preboil and soak ahead of use. Luckily I had cooked them earlier today. Pork, pasta and those few vegetables came together with a simple sauce for a quick and tasty lunch. Fresh fruit for dessert provided a sweet finish... and then I was finished. Surely a little Spring stroll justifies a little afternoon nap.

Skillet Pasta with Smokey Pork and Tomatoes

1 package smoked pork neck bones (1+ lbs)
4 fat handfuls cavatappi pasta (enough for 2 servings)
1 cup white or yellow onion, rough chopped
1 TBS anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic, minced (or use garlic powder)
1 tsp red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halves
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, shreds
1/4 cup Italian parsley, rough chopped  

Place smoked pork neck bones in a deep pot and cover with water. Bring water to a boil over high heat; lower the heat, cover and cook at a low simmer for an hour. Leave the pork and liquid in the pot and cool to room temperature. Discard the cooking water, pull the meat from the bones and shred, removing pockets of fat, and set aside. 

Cook the pasta until just tender, it will soften a bit more as it finishes in the skillet. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. 

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet and saute the diced onion over medium high heat until softened. Add the anchovy paste and stir to incorporate. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, tomato halves and cooked pork; cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, to heat through (and the tomatoes soften).

Stir in 1/4-cup of the hot pasta water and add the drained, cooked pasta, half of the Parmesan cheese and all of the parsley; toss to mix (adding more olive oil and pasta water as needed). 

Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese and serve.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ham and Cheese Bread

...a delicious savory quick bread featuring a soft, moist interior under a crackled and crunchy crust.

A last-minute tweak to the Sunday brunch menu left piles mountains of sliced ham and cheese hanging out in my fridge. "No problemo," I thought since these basic deli ingredients are incredibly versatile. We love loaded chef's salads, open-faced smorrebrod sandwiches, decadent Monte Cristos or Croque Madames, mac 'n cheese minis with ham... and the list goes on. Initially a few late hour snack attacks partnered the ham and cheese with crackers, mustard and pickles. Impromptu nibbles are the best! but we didn't make a dent in the leftovers. It was time to get serous.

Carb cravings kicked in when I ran across a Patricia Wells quick bread recipe, found in her book, Salad as a Meal. Yes, it would be Ham and Cheese Bread to the rescue! 

Wells called for chunks of ham and French comte cheese cut in 1/4-inch dice, but I worked with the slices of Black Forest ham and smoked gouda cheese already on hand. A rough chop of the presliced ingredients substituted for the specified cubes. It worked. Kalamata olives added some welcome salty, savory notes on day one, a tasty match for za'atar flavored chicken thighs and a Greek salad, but the olives were too dominant the next morning on the toasted slices. Was it the contrast with my mixed fruit breakfast smoothie? maybe. I'll try milder olives in the next loaf, or swap in nuts instead. 

The original recipe called for a 25-30 minute cooking time, but it took 45 minutes in my oven for the center to cook through and a cake tester to come out clean. By then the crust was well past golden, but I really do prefer breads with a crunchy, browned crust. Why so long a cook? was it my oven temperature? was it the glass pan? Some quick online research indicated it might be both, or either, or neither. Sigh. Use the listed cooking times as suggestions, checking often with a tester until the interior is done. 

We loved thin slices from the still warm loaf, without butter or any other accompaniments (like fig jam). Cooled to room temperature the slices offered less of a flavor punch, but still made delicious snacks and led me to thoughts of a savory bread pudding. Toasted breakfast slices were less well-received; I'll blame it on those assertive olives. Nonetheless the entire loaf disappeared in less than 24 hours. Now it's time to plan some flavor and ingredient tweaks for the next loaf, maybe four mini loaves with two for appetizers and two for the freezer. 

Ham and Cheese Quick Bread
recipe largely from "Salad as a Meal" by Patricia Wells

5 TBS extra-virgin olive oil 
1 cups All-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour   
2 level tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
5-oz cheese, chopped or cubed (Fontina, gruyere or swiss)
5-oz cooked ham, chopped or cubed
1/3 cup olives, pitted & halved (Kalamata or pimento-stuffed green)
additional olive oil or cooking spray to coat the loaf pan

  1. Place an oven rack in the center; preheat the oven to 400 F. Generously oil bottom and sides of the loaf pan.
  2. Use a large bowl and combine thoroughly the first 7 ingredients, olive oil through yogurt. 
  3. Add the cheese, ham and olives and stir to incorporate but don't overmix.
  4. Scoop the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven until the crust is a rich golden color and a cake tester comes out clean. This takes roughly 30 minutes in a metal pan. (It took 45 minutes in my oven using a glass pan)
  5. Remove from the oven and place the bread pan on a wire rack to cool. After the loaf cools, tilt it out of the pan to slice and serve at room temperature.

*Patricia Wells notes the loaf can be stored "at room temperature wrapped in foil for up to 3 days."

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...