I like casual. I like juxtaposition. I like a kind of surprise on the plate – whether I’m cooking or someone else is. I seldom make complicated dishes, but I do like to build meals somewhat extemporaneously. Here, take some of this in your, ah, trencher. More broth from this humongous kettle? How about a late baked potato? I tend to think in layers of taste. This might need a little spread of unctuosity –a spoonful of walnut oil over the top of that... whatever. Crunch? Toasted nuts or seeds. Croutons. A strew of cheese? Sweetness, a slice of pear?
I found a new pear at Hannafords the other day. It was called a Concorde. It’s a yellow pear, rather firm, but juicy and delicious; and because it’s firm it adds texture to the palate as well – a nice crispness.
I had friends over the other night and chose to serve a Puerto Rican Braised Pork Roast with Sweet Potatoes. It’s a recipe by Jacques Pepin that appeared in the New York Times many years ago. I hadn’t made it in a coon’s age! But I remembered the simplicity of it and the wonderful taste. And, importantly, it could be put together mostly before the guests came so that I would not be exiled to the kitchen while they were conducting intriguing conversations without me. Or about me! (You know who I mean!) But almost most importantly it would be cooked in my black cast iron dutch oven and that would be placed right in the middle of the table, giving us a certain primitive, firelit, festive aura, as though it came right out of the fire.
I wasn’t too worried about that point because I remember Bill Pape, owner of On the Edge Farm, telling me to take a frozen roast home and put it in a pot and into the oven and it would be delish in 3 hours, and it was. Optimally, though, I like my roast thawed.
The largest one Jeff had was 3 pounds, bone in, and I said fine, I’d flesh it out with some andouille sausage, which I did, from Pine Woods Farm.
Here’s the recipe according to Jacques Pepin, and you’ll note the changes I made below that, in bold. There are two blocks of time here, one of which you could start mid-afternoon, and the last – to slide it into the oven – about the time your guests are due to arrive. Neither one require a whole lot of effort.
Braised Pork Roast with Sweet Potatoes• 1 shoulder butt pork roast, boneless, 3 lbs.
• 2 cups water
• 2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
• 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
• 2 tablespoons red wine or cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 2 pounds yams (about 4)
• 1 pound onions (2 large)
• 6 large cloves garlic, peeled.
Place the pork roast in a cast iron pot with a lid. Add water, soy sauce, tabasco, vinegar, honey and cumin. Bring it to a boil and reduce heat to very low to simmer gently, covered, for 1 hour.
Peel yams and cut into 1 1/2" slices. Peel onions and cut each into 4 to 6 pieces.
Preheat oven to 375°
Add yams, onions and garlic to pork. Bring back to the boil and continue boiling for 15 minutes. Uncover and place casserole in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, turning every 15 minutes.
Serve directly from the pot, cutting the meat at the table.
Yield: 6 servings
So, now – you know me – I had to tweak this a bit. To me this recipe was just calling out for green peppers, and not many recipes do, believe me. So I added half a large green pepper, diced, in that first cooking step, and the remainder of it when I added the yams. I already said I added a pound of sausage to the first step to make up for the weight of the bone in the roast. I increased the soy sauce to 1/3 cup. Instead of Tabasco I used some of Peter’s cascobel pepper salsa and a pinch of hot red pepper flakes. I did not peel the yams – the recipe is rather dated – We Peeled for Company back in the ‘80s. And one more thing: I think carrots would be good in this dish and add some girth to it. I didn’t add them but you could.
(I am hearing people absolutely ranting in their praise of the carrots at the Farmers’ Market these days. One woman went from Meadow to Greg to Paul describing how those carrots are exploding with taste. The carbs have turned to sugar, you see, and a roasted carrot is now a thing of splendor!)
I started this process at 3:30 and slid that casserole into the oven for its final 45 minute stint just about the time my company was due to arrive at 6:30. I did not worry about turning it every 15 minutes.
And if I were you I would, yes, plan to serve it from the pot at the table, for which you’ll need a serving fork and a ladle, but do slice that meat in the kitchen, or pull it apart, before you do. It’s a little unwieldy.
I must say that I put my guests to work – one brought a nice green salad and two others appetizers. I had pie for dessert, which I had made the day before. And it was so much fun, very laid back! Studies suggest that, when all is said and done, people don’t remember the food served at memorable feasts, but they do remember the company and conversation.
And the fire.