Pork Risotto

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It's Groundhog Day, if you live in the US. Well, it's Groundhog Day if you live in the UK, too, but Groundhog Day isn't a holiday here, probably because we don't have groundhogs.* Also probably because there is NO CHANCE at all in the history of ever that spring would come to the UK on 3 February. There will ALWAYS be at least 6, and probably closer to 12, more weeks of winter, minimum. Now that it's February, though, we're buckling in for the long-haul of this winter. It's still snowing at least every other day, Holtzmann still has to wear her wee tartan jacket every time we go outside, and the park across the street has been ankle-deep in mud since Christmas. Might as well embrace it and make some risotto, right?

Risotto is one of those foods (along with mussels and, most of the time, duck) that I will always get if it's on the menu at a restaurant. Paired with mushrooms and truffles, or shrimp, or pecorino and leeks, or bacon and an egg or even cabbage, I don't care: I'm into it. I'm also not scared to make it despite how it's always treated like a really difficult dish, I just really like it. But I was wary of this particular risotto because, well, pork? And olives? Anyway, this is why I sat on this recipe for so long, and now I am sad that it took me so long to cook it because it was great. Salty pork shoulder cooked for ages until it's fall-apart tender, sweet green peas to contrast with it, and all on a bed of tender risotto cooked in pork broth? Yes, please.

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I'm not going to try to foist the olives on you because I, too, was wary of them, and the truth is that this risotto would work just fine without them. The flavour from the pork and peas is enough to carry the dish, but if you're feeling daring, give it a try with the olives. I tried to get away with sprinkling them on top so we could easily scoop them back off if they were terrible, but then I remembered the rules and went ahead with it and... they were nice. With the olives, the whole dish has a nice variety of briny-sweet-umami with the risotto holding it all together, but you can definitely get away without them and no one will notice because no one would ever think that a bowl of risotto was supposed to have olives in it because the year is no longer 1962. However you make it, make it soon while the days are short, the weather is iffy and you have nowhere better to be than your kitchen, because this is hibernation food of the first order and you're not going to want to eat this in May. Unless you live in the North Pole, or maybe Australia.

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*We DO, however, have hedgehogs (I have not seen one of these since moving here), foxes (I DID see one of these on my way home from a girls' night, drunk, when we first moved here- Judson still doesn't believe me, but it happened and it was awesome) and badgers (also haven't seen one of these but did you know they are huge and carry tuberculosis?).

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. This recipe was really easy, especially by risotto standards, which usually require gradual adding of liquid ingredients, constant stirring and a lot of other faff. I knocked off one spoon because getting hold of pork shoulder is a bit of a pain, and trimming it once I got it was difficult, but this dish is awesome, and goes super well with a bright winter salad (endive, oranges and walnuts for us, but you do you!).

One year ago: Party Mix
two years ago: Garbanzo bean soup

the recipe:

Pork Risotto

the directions:

Trim pork from bones if needed (I had the butcher do this) and trim off as much fat as possible.
In a deep-sided pan, brown meat in oil or fat on both sides.
Sprinkle ½ of salt over meat, add ½ of water, cover and cook over very low heat for 40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to be sure water has not boiled off (if it has, add remaining water, a little bit at a time).
Remove meat from pan and set aside.
Stir rice, onion and thyme, if using, into pan drippings, turn heat up to medium-low and stir until rice has absorbed the liquid.
Add chicken broth in 2 batches, allowing rice to absorb most of liquid before adding more.
Add any remaining water and frozen peas and bring to a simmer.
Once peas are warmed through, add pork along with any liquid it has released, cover and simmer until any remaining liquid is absorbed, about 5 more minutes.
Stir in olives, taste and adjust seasoning, then serve with a glass of white wine and a crisp winter salad.

the ingredients:

2 lbs (1kilo) pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into large bite-sized chunks
2 tbsp olive oil or goose fat
2 tsp salt
1 c (235ml) water
1 c (200g)risotto (uncooked)
1 yellow onion, chopped coarsely
2 c (470ml) chicken broth
1 ¼ c (200g) frozen peas
Optional:
1 pinch dried thyme or leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
¼ c (30g) small green olives, pimento-stuffed or plain

Spaghetti Two Ways

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These recipes are both basically ''take a box of spaghetti, make a sauce, then eat it!' but one of them involves stirring sliced hot dogs (wieners, in the parlance of the recipe, which, since I am 12, is hilarious to me) into the finished sauce. As this sounds revolting, I am lucky because I live in a country with little to no respect for the hot dog so I was unable to find hot dogs and had to make this with chorizo,* thus combining both recipes into a simpler single version with optional chorizo sprinkles.

Since both recipes require some kind of pre-made sauce base that obviously doesn't exist anymore, I made my own sauce from scratch (-ish) using their additions to dress it up. I had mine with chorizo and Judson tried it without, so you can make it either way, or, if you're feeling really authentically 1950s, go ahead and stir in some sliced hot dogs. What could be better?

I made this for us one night when it was raining (not snowing for once!) and I couldn't be bothered to cook anything that required much thought but still wanted to be in the kitchen because it's always the warmest room in our flat. I really love mindless cooking like making pasta sauce or chili sometimes- the kind of thing where you just chopchopchop sizzlesizzlesizzle simmersimmersimmer taste and adjust, then start again from the beginning. I love zoning out to an old episode of the Golden Girls, my favourite playlist, or an audiobook (my newfound passion- I can read twice as many books at a time now!), listening to the rain and filling the kitchen with steam and good smells until it's time to eat, and this recipe is no exception.

Very much intended to be a 'clean-out-your-fridge' type recipe, this sauce is the kind of thing you'll never make the same way twice because it's completely dependent on what you've got to hand; have an open jar of anchovies you need to use up? Throw 'em in! A stalk or two of celery that are going soft? Chop 'em up! Half an onion, one shallot, and a piece of leek? In they go! A carrot? Fine! A handful of strawberries? WHOA, no. This is not a free-for-all, you know.

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Anyway, here's how I made mine, based on what the original recipe recommended to add to a prepared sauce base, but as I said, edit it to your heart's content. You can cook this for as little as 30 minutes including softening time, but it's going to keep getting better the longer you leave it, so if you have time, do your prep a few hours before you need it and then let it simmer for a few hours so the flavours really blend. It'll be worth it.

*Truly, this country has so little respect for the hot dog that the only ones I have ever seen in my shop come full-length in a can packed in water, and the label is, of course, an American flag. Once upon a time, the existence of those water-packed canned weiners was the most embarrassing thing about being an American abroad.

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The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. I'm knocking off one spoon because this is no spaghetti bolognese made with fresh tomatoes when they're actually in season, but for a recipe that cleared out my fridge of all the veg I would otherwise probably have had to toss, it's great. And I'm knocking one more spoon because the chorizo didn't really add anything and I can all but guarantee the requested hot dogs would have been even worse.

ONE YEAR AGO: TOLL HOUSE MARBLE SQUARES
TWO YEARS AGO: ASIAN CHICKEN TWO WAYS

the recipe:

Spaghetti

the directions:

Saute the anchovy in the oil in a deep saucepot until it melts.
Add the celery and stir well, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 4 minutes, until slightly softened.
Add the garlic, onion, bell pepper and mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until well-softened and slightly browned, at least 10 minutes or up to 20 minutes.
Deglaze the pot with a generous glug of wine, turn up the heat to medium and add the tomato paste. Stir to combine, then add the passata and stir well.
Bring to a simmer, add red pepper flakes, then taste.
If needed, add sugar, salt and additional red pepper flakes.
Reduce heat to medium-low and either allow to simmer with the lid on for up to an hour, or cook your spaghetti.

To serve, place spaghetti in four individual bowls, top generously with warm sauce, sprinkle with cheese and, if desired, add a sprinkle of chorizo. Note that according to this recipe, adding the chorizo turns this into 'Frank n' Spaghetti Supper.'

the ingredients:

Customise the below to fit what you have in your kitchen:
3 anchovies
3 tbsp olive oil or the oil from the anchovy tin
2 celery ribs, chopped very fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ onion, chopped coarsely
1 bell pepper, chopped coarsely
1 handful white or chestnut mushrooms, chopped coarsely
1 glug red or white wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 box tomato passata
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp sugar or brown sugar
2 tbsp salt or to taste
4 servings of spaghetti
Fresh grated parmesan or pecorino
Optional: 1 generous handful of chorizo, chopped coarsely

French Onion Soup

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I hate french onion soup. There aren't a lot of foods I really detest, but I've made two of them in the last week for this blog (the other to come next week), and french onion soup is one of them. I'd argue my rationale is valid- without going into detail, it involves a Panera, a group study session, food poisoning and missing the first exam of my college career.

Since then, I have never eaten french onion soup (and I lived in France for a year, got married there, spent my honeymoon and three other recent vacations there- my commitment to avoiding it is truly admirable, if I say so myself). Not only have I completely abstained from french onion soup for the last fourteen years, but I also have only eaten anything made with beef broth maybe a half dozen times in that span. My hatred runs deep.

Because I haven't had french onion soup in that long, I have literally never eaten it in front of Judson. But I realised I didn't want to make a giant batch and be stuck with it if he didn't like it either, so I asked him if he did: 'UGH, french onion soup,' he sneered. 'YOU DON'T LIKE IT EITHER? How did I never know this?!' I asked, shocked. He responded 'it's not that I don't like it, it's just a food that's not fancy but that people eat when they want to BE fancy, and that bugs me. Why? Don't you like it?'

And that's how we each found out something new about the person we've been married to for almost six years. On account of all this, I only made us two servings of it because, I mean, what if I couldn't handle it? It turns out that Judson quite likes the act of eating french onion soup, it's just the idea of it he can't handle, so he didn't mind either. And really, what's not to like here? Onions cooked low and slow until they're sweet and soft, a deep, flavourful broth and seriously, what other soup do you get to serve with the melted cheese right on it, already broiled to a crisp?

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This version of the recipe is insanely easy- put your onions on and forget about them; add your broth and forget about it; when ready to eat, reheat under the broiler with a mozzarella crouton and you're golden- literally, that's the colour your toast should be. Best eaten with a glass of Pinot Noir and a film you've been dying to see (we went with Mindhorn) while you watch the snow swirl outside your window.

One note: my beef broth phobia runs deep, so I went on a limb and used the best quality I could get for this recipe- since it's literally half the ingredients of the soup, I'd recommend going top-notch with it. I didn't have any homemade, so I used the best quality stockpot I could get my hands on and upping the awesome factor with some fresh thyme, a glug of verjus (you can use wine, I just happened to have verjus to hand), and a generous pinch of brown sugar because I like the way it plays off the onions.

 

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. I don't think I can properly call myself a fan of french onion soup yet, but if anything is going to convince me, the simplicity of this recipe will be it.

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One year ago: toll house marble squares
two years ago: double-chocolate layer cheesecake

The recipe:

French Onion Soup

The directions:

Chop onions into bite-size pieces.
Heat the butter in a large stockpot JUST until melted, then turn heat as low as possible.
Add onions, stir to coat with butter, and add the brown sugar if using.
Put the lid on the pot and allow to cook for 1 hour, checking occasionally to be sure they haven't dried out.
After one hour, add beef stock.
If using the thyme, bay leaf, and verjus/wine, add it now.
Stir well, and bring to a gentle simmer.
Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until heated through.
Meanwhile, toast baguette slices until just crisped through but not yet browned.
Warm your grill (broiler in the US) and place an oven tray in the top 1/3 of oven.
Taste soup and adjust seasoning (ours needed a hint of brightness, so I added a spoonful more wine here).
Ladle the soup into two ovenproof bowls, place the toasted baguette on top of each bowl, and place the mozzarella on top of the bread.
Place the soup in the oven and toast until mozzarella is blistered and bubbly and soup is bubbling underneath.
Remove from oven, garnish with an extra thyme sprig if desired, and eat immediately.

Yields 2 generous servings.

the ingredients:

3 large onions
2 tbsp (28g) butter
Scant 2 cups (400ml) beef stock
2 slices from a baguette
2 slices mozzarella cheese
Optional: 1 tsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, 1 bay leaf, 2 tbsp verjus or wine.