A few years back, Joe bought a cookbook called “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook” by Paula Wolfert. If you love Old World slow cooked dishes with big bold aromas and tastes, then this book is for you. I’ve never had anything from it that wasn’t delicious.
However tonight’s meal is probably the tastiest of all the recipes we’ve tried. Joe made this, perhaps as a nod to Jamie’s and my impending trip to Italy. I had to share it with you.
Please note that it’s a dish that takes many hours, but boy is it worth it!
Pork Coddled in Olive Oil with Tuscan Beans and Arugula
This dish from Arezzo (in Tuscany) originated in a time of great poverty and drought, when pigs had to be slaughtered because there was nothing to feed them. The pigs’ legs were preserved in the form of prosciutto. The local farmers devised a method of preserving the rest of the pork similar to the way fresh tuna is preserved in Sicily: they salted it, cooked it very slowly in olive oil along with some seasonings and a little bit of unfiltered sharp wine, and then preserved the meat sott’olio, meaning “under olive oil.”
When served, the meat is broken apart into small chunks, exposing a juicy pink interior. The chunks are presented on a bed of Tuscan white beans (we didn’t have those so used lima beans instead) tossed with the pan drippings from the meat. Thinly slice vinegared red onions and a couple of bunches of arugula are sprinkled on top.
2 1/4 pounds lean boneless pork shoulder
1 T coarse salt
1 T crushed black peppercorns
2 bay leaves, crushed to a powder
1/2 t. bruised fennel seeds
2 springs of thyme
2 cups plus 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 small head of garlic, halved
1 small red onion, sliced paper thin
2 1/2 T. red wine vinegar
Tuscan Beans (recipe follows at the bottom of this post)
2 large bunches of arugula
1. Trim away all fat, sinew, and membrane from the pork. Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks. In a large sealable bag or bowl, toss the meat with a mixture of the salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, fennel and thyme. Massage the seasonings into the pork, seal or cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
2. Without draining the meat, squeeze the pieces into a medium ceramic or enameled cast-iron casserole in a single layer. Pour on 2 cups of the olive oil. Cover with a sheet of crumpled parchment and a lid, set over very low heat, and cook until the oil comes to a boil, 30 to 45 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Transfer the pan to the oven. Add the halved heat of garlic and cook for 2 1/2 hours longer. Check that the oil bubbles only a little; the meat should not brown. To test if the pork is ready, scoop out one piece and tap it lightly; it should break into smaller chunks and be a soft pink color. Remove from the oven and let stand until completely cool. Refrigerate for up to 5 days. (Be sure the pork is completely covered in oil; add additional fresh oil if necessary.)
4. Reheat the pork slowly. At the same time, soak the red onions in 1 T. of the vinegar for 30 minutes. Drain the pork into a colander set over a bowl; discard the garlic and thyme. Allow all the juices in the bowl to settle, then pour off the oil and reserve it for future use; reserve the meat juices at the bottom of the bowl separately.
5. In large bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 T. olive oil and 1 1/2 T. vinegar with the reserved meat juices. Add the room temperature beans and toss to mix.
6. To serve, mound the beans on a large platter. Scatter the red onion slices and chunks of warm pork on top. Garnish with the arugula.
2 cups dried white beans
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 dried hot red pepper
Pinch of salt
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground pepper
1. Soak the beans in cold water to cover for at least 12 hours or overnight. Drain the beans.
2. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with 3 quarts of fresh cold water. Slowly bring to a boil, skimming once or twice. Add the garlic, hot pepper, salt and the bay leaves, and continue to cook over the lowest heat until tender, about 3 hours.
3. Drain the beans; discard the pepper and bay leaves. Let cool to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the beans are made ahead and refrigerated, let return to room temperature before serving.