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How to make pancetta… starting with a five-hundred-year-old pig

November 21, 2011 2 comments

OK, the pig itself was not 500 years old.  But my pancetta project started 5 centuries ago, give or take.

Pancetta, for the uninitiated, is an Italian version of “bacon”.  It starts with a pork belly, but unlike American bacon, it is salt-cured (along with garlic, pepper and other spices), not smoked.    Pancetta is typically cubed and rendered to provide flavor for any number of dishes, and to my taste is more enjoyable than American bacon, mainly because it tastes more “porky”.

Ossabaws at Cane Creek Farm, the place we bought our breeding stock.

Before I became determined to make pancetta, I became infatuated with a hog.  Not just any hog, an Ossabaw Island hog.  These pigs are descendants of the legendary Iberica swine, and were deposited by the Spaniards on Ossabaw Island, off the coast of Georgia, in the 1500’s.  As an isolated, feral herd, they are now the most genetically  pure European swine on the planet.  These are not your ordinary industrial hogs.

Fortunately for me (who lacks a farm), I have a friend as crazy as I am.  Bruce is the fourth generation on his Hillsborough, NC farm, and he agreed to raise a some Ossabaws.  We bought some gilts from Cane Creek Farm in Snowcamp, NC, later found a boar from another farmer, and soon enough we had piglets.  Bruce’s young son took care of the piglets, and in October we harvested the pig that was subject of this post.

While our piglets were bulking up, a couple of food bloggers created the Charcutapalooza Challenge.  The gist of it is that they proposed one charcuterie challenge per month, and dangled a big prize for the person who completed all the projects in an exemplary way.  They managed to get Michael Ruhlman, author of the amazing book Charcuterie, to be a consultant to the project.  As soon as I saw the project I knew I needed to be involved.

Sadly, however, I’ve only had time for one challenge – duck prosciutto – till now.  I posted on that one several months ago.  In some ways, knowing that I can’t compete for the prize was liberating.  I am now free to focus on my art, the way I want to.  And I thought that it would be pretty unusual for anyone to make Ossabaw pancetta, let alone from a pig they’ve grown.  In addition, I decided I would do the hog processing myself.  Here’s the photo tutorial.

It all starts with a hog. Bruce wisely talked me into letting him take the hog to be killed, scalded, and halved. The harvesting itself isn't such a big job, but the scalding is. So this half hog is how I took delivery of the pig. Note the beautiful fat on this pig, including the leaf lard in the viscera.

Here's the mid-section of the hog after I liberated the ham and shoulder. Since this isn'a post about how to butcher a hog, I'll focus just on the task of separating the belly that we'll turn into pancetta. Note that you don't need a lot of heavy cutting equipment to butcher an animal - a sharpening steel, a good boning knife, and a bone saw will do the job.

We start by separating the loin from the belly. We'll separate out the tenderloin, then turn the loin itself into three roasts.

We isolate the belly by removing the ribs. I also trimmed off a lot of the excess fat (which I retained for more lard). This belly is now ready for curing.

Bruce was enthusiatic to have me turn his half of the hog into pancetta, too, hence there are two bellies here. Bruce's is a little oddly shaped because he was a little more aggressive about separating the ham from the loin. The glasses contain the curing spice mixture specified by Ruhlman: Instacure #1, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, nutmeg, thyme and crushed juniper berries. Ruhlman also calls for brown sugar, which I forgot. But I was very happy with the outcome, and would probably omit sugar on the future, too.

Here are the bellies with the curing rub on them. From here they went into a giant Ziploc, and into my reach-in to cure for a while. Ruhlman said a week, but I let them go for three weeks, just because I didn't have time to take them out sooner. I did take them out once or twice for overhauling (rubbing the spices into the meat).

After three weeks in the reach-in, the meat was ready to roll and cure. First step was to rinse off the spice mixture, and trim them to an appropriate size for rolling.

Pretty simple now... cut, and roll tightly. You could add extra seasoning now, but I didn't.

Now tie the roll TIGHT. If you don't know how to tie a roast, see this video: http://video.about.com/homecooking/Tie-a-Roast.htm

Once they're all tied, hang them in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Ideal conditions are 50-60F and 50-60% RH. Because pancetta is cooked, hanging to cure can be an inexact science.

Because the weather in NC is highly variable (and warm for several days at a time), I built a simple curing chamber out of a dorm fridge. Basically I hijacked the controls and added humidification capability. It needs dehumidification, too. Next project.

After two weeks of curing, they were ready to slice and store. The vinegar was used to wipe off small bits of chalky white mold. I checked them every few days while curing and wiped off small mold spots when they popped up (which they did, because of the high humidity while I was curing). White mold is no problem. Green and black mold is the stuff you worry about, and I didn;t see any of that.

Here it is, all sliced up, ready to package. Beautiful, isn't it?

Couldn't resist a close-up.

Vacuum seal and store for 6 months, easy.

Now that you see how to make the pancetta, let’s do something with it: pasta carbonara.

Cube a wheel or two of that pancetta.

Render it.

Cook some pasta. Yes, I was lazy and used boxed pasta. Sue me. Be sure to reserve a little of the water from boiling the pasta (maybe 1/2 - 1 cup), you'll need it later.

Get some other stuff ready: a big hunk of butter (1/8-1/4 lb), a big mound of hard cheese (2 cups pecorino romano), a couple eggs, and wine (optional, for drinking, not cooking).

Heat a big pan in the oven while the pasta is cooking. When pasta is al dente, throw the butter in the hot pan to melt.

Add the pasta, cheese, and eggs to the hot pan with butter. Yes, one of my eggs was a double-yolker. Bonus.

Mix well, adding a little retained pasta water till consistency is correct. Normally I would have added pancetta in same step, but I have one vegetarian in the house, so I mix it up veg and plate hers first.

Add the pancetta, mix well.

Plate and enjoy!

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Slow Food USA $5 Challenge

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Slow Food USA laid down the gauntlet: Prepare a slow food meal from whole foods, for less than $5 per serving.  At $5, these meals are less expensive than fast food, and support the ideals and the budget many of us have for feeding our families.  I’ve been looking forward to posting a meal for a few weeks now.

Given that the challenge date falls on Saturday, there was no question how I was going to approach my challenge. Saturday is farmers’ market day for our small business, and we would be covering two markets, Western Wake Farmers’ Market and The Saturday Market.  Our family MO is we split up to cover these venues, and each of us does a little shopping, with no consultation with the others (except to make sure we don’t duplicate items) – this way everybody gets to have something that they wanted during the upcoming week.  Sometimes we have meal ideas when we buy, other times the ingredients just speak to us.  I was simply going to work with whatever we brought home today, with no preconceived notion about what to prepare.

Today turned out to be a banner day for fresh food.  It’s change of season, so our market bags were overflowing with loot: first-push mustard greens, Sungold cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, pears, whole chicken and chicken livers, fall asparagus, flounder and swordfish, eggs, queso fresco, butter beans, okra, and a few things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  In the end, two things spoke to me: fall asparagus, because I have never before encountered it (the vendor told me that when asparagus plants become very mature, they produce a little in the fall, in addition to the usual spring harvest), and the swordfish steaks, because we don’t really enjoy frozen seafood, so our habit is to eat seafood starting Saturday evening and keep eating it every night until we finish what we bought on Saturday (so weekends are usually fish nights, as is Monday about half the time).

The final dish wound up being Homemade Pappardelle Pasta in Brown Butter Lemon Cream Sauce, with Lemon-Caper Swordfish Steaks and Autumn Asparagus and Sweet Red Peppers.

After a long, raw day at rainy farmers’ markets, we were all in the mood for a more hearty meal than the summer fare we’ve enjoyed till now.  My thoughts turned to pasta.  While I have no moral objection to boxed pasta, after a long week I needed the kind of therapy that comes from making pasta from scratch.  And while I love making pasta dough, I lose patience with tedious preparations on Saturday nights, since I usually don’t start making dinner till after 5 PM.  Pappardelle noodles are lazy man’s noodles: rich and delicious, but quick and easy to make: literally 5 minutes to prepare dough, and about 10 minutes to roll and cut after the dough has rested for a half hour.

I also don’t want to fuss with sauce after working all day, so a brown butter sage lemon cream sauce was just what the doctor ordered.  It’s a simple, delicious way to dress pasta in no time flat.

Swordfish steaks were a last minute addition to my market basket from Not Lin of Locals Seafood, after I realized the the single whole fish he reserved for me was not going to be enough to feed four people well.  We had a quick negotiation about them, a calculus that involves the exchange of market goods and cash in varying amounts each week.  I’ve adjusted my meal cost calculations to account for the true street price of the ingredients I used, however, so you can rest assured that you can reproduce my meal for the amounts I quote.

The star of my meal, however, was fall asparagus.  Gertrude’s Garden Gems had this unusual offering, and it could not be passed up, or passed over this evening.  Asparagus is a spring treat with a short season, and having it in the fall was an extraordinary treat. I decided to pair it with peppers from Redbud Farm.

Here’s the photo blog on how to pull the meal together:

Make a basic pasta dough by combining 3 cups of flour, 2 tsp salt and 3 eggs. Knead by hand or with a machine until you achieve a compliant ball that isn't sticky. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water - add them one TBSP at a time till the dough comes together. If you add too much water, don't panic, just dust in a little more flour to compensate. When the dough is kneaded, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour.

Cut off hunks of dough a little bigger than a golf ball, and roll them on a well-floured surface (or with a pasta machine) till they are a few millimeters thick. Cut noodles about 3/4" wide.

While the pasta dough is resting, marinate the swordfish in lemon juice (the juice of half a lemon). You can add some white wine, too, if you like.

Here are the noodles, asparagus and peppers. Trim the woody ends of the asparagus (about the bottom inch or two) and blanch for about a minute, then shock in cold water. You'll reheat them in the pasta water immediately before serving. Cut the peppers in a coarse dice.

Pan sear the peppers in some EVOO. Just a few minutes is enough. Retain the oil in the pan as the base of the cream sauce.

Pan sear the swordfish in EVOO and cook gently until cooked through to desired doneness. About 5 minutes per side was enough for these steaks. Meanwhile, get the sauce started by melting half a stick of butter in the pepper pan with the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and add about 1 TBSP dried sage.

Boil the pasta till al dente, about one minute or maybe two. It's fresh, so it needs hardly any cooking. Also, add capers and caper vinegar to fish (about a TBSP of each). Turn the cooked pasta out into the browned butter, and add about 4 ounces of half and half or heavy cream. Toss gently till noodles are coated and warmed, about 2 minutes.

Plate the meal as you like. This is one suggestion.

That’s all there is to it.  It was about 30 minutes of prep, 30 minutes of waiting for dough to rest, and maybe 10 or 15 minutes active cooking.

Here’s the costing:

 Total Cost Portions  Cost per Portion
Protein fish  $         13.50 4  $                         3.38
Capers  $           0.20 4  $                         0.05
Pasta flour  $           0.52 5  $                         0.10
eggs  $           1.14 5  $                         0.23
Sauce Butter  $           0.27 5  $                         0.05
Lemon  $           0.33 5  $                         0.07
Cream  $           0.28 5  $                         0.06
Veg Asparagus  $           1.75 4  $                         0.44
Peppers  $           1.00 4  $                         0.25
Marco Polo EVOO  $           0.25 5  $                         0.05
Salt  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Pepper  $           0.04 4  $                         0.01
Total per portion:  $                         4.69

We achieved the Slow Food criteria pretty easily, and had a luxurious meal for less than the cost of a fast food meal.  You can do it, too!

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Photo blog: How to make pumpkin cannelloni from scratch

November 29, 2010 2 comments

Cannelloni are a favorite stuffed pasta that are frequently (and incorrectly) called manicotti (manicotti, also known as Piedmont cannelloni, are actually savory filled crepes).  In the spirit of this blog, this dish is something that hardly anyone tries from scratch – go on the internet and the best you’ll do is come up with a bunch of recipes that call for boxed pasta tubes and all manner of canned ingredients for filling.   Yet they are very easy to make from scratch, albeit a little time consuming.  Here’s how.

Start with a pumpkin.  Pretty much any pumpkin will do.  This one was about the size of a soccer ball and yielded seven servings.

Cut the pumpkin in half, remove seeds.

Lay flat on a baking sheet, bake at 350F for about an hour, until the flesh comes out easily with a spoon.  Spoon out all the flesh and put in a colander to drain for an hour.

Make some semolina pasta.  Use 1 cup semolina flour, 1 cup all purpose flour, 3 eggs and about 1/3 cup olive oil.  Knead ingredients by hand or in a machine for about 5-7 minutes.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap for an hour.  After dough rests, cut ball in 8 pieces, and work each piece with a pasta machine or rolling pin, make it as thin as possible.  Each piece will yield two 4×6 inch rectangles.

Caramelize an onion.

Add the pumpkin and about a tablespoon of fresh chopped sage.  Salt to taste.

Place a mound of pumpkin filling about the size of a roll of quarters on each rectangle.  Roll the dough around the filling, overlapping the ends.

Place each roll in a greased baking dish.  You should place a small layer of bechamel in the pan first.  Make a bechamel by melting a couple tablespoons of butter in a skillet.  Whisk in a heaping tabelspoon of flour (now it’s a roux).  Add about 1.5 cups milk, a dash of ground nutmeg, and raise heat to high until sauce thickens.

Finish adding filled pasta rolls, cover with bechamel, then with grated cheese and a little ground pepper.  Bake at 350F until sauce is bubbling and cheese browns, about 40 minutes.

This dish used a $2 pumpkin, about $1.50 worth of ingredients to make the pasta, another $1 for the bechamel, and let’s say $1 for grated cheese.  Total, $5.50.  It yielded 7 servings, for a total of 79 cents per serving.  Another great meal for less than a buck.

Categories: Dinner, Pasta, Recipes Tags: , ,

Hubbard Squash Ravioli in Sage Butter Sauce

September 21, 2010 4 comments

My first “real” post to my Foodwhisperer blog – something I’ve been meaning to start for a LONG time now (2+ years).  My intent is for this to become my “hobby blog”, so I can lessen the number of questionably relevant posts on our Muddy Dog Roasting Company blog.  I had big ideas on how I would start this one, most of those ideas involving pomp and circumstance.  In the end, I guess I have to just start. Unceremoniously.  So here goes.

My family loves pasta.  Especially filled pastas.  This weekend was a good opportunity to make some squash filled ravioli from the bounty of the Westen Wake Farmer’s Market.

Here's how you get the pasta started. Beer is optional.

Pasta is simple.  Really.  Time consuming, but simple.  Take two cups flour.  Add two pinches salt.  Mix well.  Put on a board and make a volcano.  Into the volcano, crack two eggs.  Start pulling the flour into the eggs (we get ours from Ricky Barbor @WWFM), mixing as you go.  You will have to add some liquid, too.  This is the part that requires some judgment  – the amount of liquid you need will vary depending on the size of your eggs, mainly.  Start with about 1 TBSP each of water and olive oil, that shouldn’t be too much.  Knead for a few minutes.  If dough seems dry, add a little more oil, or water, or both.  A good way to do it is to just wet your hands and then keep kneading.

Once you have a nice dough, you’ll need to roll it thin.  I use an inexpensive hand-crank pasta roller.  My brother uses a wine bottle.  You can buy a fancy attachment for your stand mixer.  In any case, you want to wind up with sheets about 1-2 mm thick.

The filling is a make ahead.  I used a Blue Hubbard squash from Eco Farms @WWFM (I think it was them, anyway!).  The hubbard has a nice texture and moisture content for this job, but most winter squashes will suffice.  Cut it in half, remove the seeds, place cut side down on a baking sheet, and bake at 300F for about 30 minutes (depending on size), in any case, till the flesh of the squash is soft and you can easily spoon it from the skin.

Spoon the squash into a mixing bowl, allow to cool.  I used maybe 1.5 cups of squash, to which I added 1 egg, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, a generous pinch of sea salt, and some pepper.  Stir to mix well.

Squash ravioli being filled. Go easy on the filling, trust me.

Spoon a small amount onto the pasta sheets.  This is where you can get jammed up – each ravioli tales less filling than you might guess, just a scant teaspoon will do.  Lay a sheet on top, and press together in between the filling to seal the sheets together.  Cut the ravioli apart in any decorative way you like.  I use a biscuit cutter and play it close to the filling, personally, but you may prefer a long tail of pasta.  No right or wrong way here.

Once they’re formed, cooking takes just 2 or 3 minutes.  Add them gently to a pot of boiling water, salty like the sea.  Stir gently to prevent them from sticking to each other.  When they float, they’re done.

I like a simple topping (not a big sauce fan for filled pasta).  Cover the bottom of a skillet with olive oil, heat.  Fry some sage leaves in the oil for garnish (just a minute or so), remove and set aside.  To the sage oil, add a few cloves of garlic (Redbud Farm @WWFM) and a few tablespoons of butter.  When the butter is fully melted and the garlic soft (a minute or two), just add the cooked ravioli and toss.

Filled ravioli ready to cook.

For a great espresso after dinner, go to Muddy Dog Roasting Company @WWFM

Categories: Pasta Tags: , ,