Saturday, March 17, 2012

Friday Dinner: Tuscan Pork Stew and Polenta

Tonight, with rain coming down in buckets, it was a perfect night for a warm, aromatic stew over creamy polenta cooked with milk and finished with some Asiago cheese and parsley. When Lynn, my cooking partner extraordinaire, suggested that we make this I was immediately all-in but since polenta's not her favorite thing, I was a little puzzled. She found a recipe on the Food and Wine site and  and thought that polenta was just the thing. It looked great to me, too - pork shoulder marinated in wine, aromatics, rosemary, sage, bay, and cloves! ... and juniper berries! According to the writer, it was developed by Chef Joe Sponzo to be made with wild boar.

...not that we don't have feral pigs with a little wild boar in the historical breeding mix here in Northern California. When I lived in Clayton for a little while (in Contra Costa County), I would read news reports of the wild/feral pigs that are the scourge of parks in and around Mt. Diablo, but no... we used pork shoulder.

One thing that struck both of us about the recipe is that it seemed like it hadn't been adapted for pork instead of wild boar. Some of the aromatics (juniper berries, cloves) and methods (boiling the meat before searing and braising it - don't do it) seemed more oriented towards game so we made some changes that I'll pass along in the recipe. In addition to the stew and polenta - we went a different direction with the polenta - we had roasted asparagus (Spring!) with garlic, salad and we drank a San Giovese with dinner.


Adapted from: Tuscan Pork Stew with Polenta - Joe Sponzo | Food & Wine
Serves 6

I firmly believe that this dish is best served in a bowl. Don't include the step in the recipe where you simmer the meat before browning. This may be necessary if you're cooking wild boar, but not for pork shoulder. We reduced the spices a little (juniper berries and cloves) but let your own taste guide you. This is a hearty, delicious dish.

Tuscan Pork Stew
Pork Marinade Ingredients
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sage leaves
  • 1 red onion, medium dice
  • 1 celery rib, medium dice
  • 1 carrot, medium dice
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 10 whole juniper berries, slightly bruised with the back of a spoon
  • 1 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 3 lbs boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2" cubes
Marinade Preparation:
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a 1 gallon resealable bag, add the pork cubes, seal and refrigerate at least 6 hours - preferably overnight (next time we're going to marinate for 24 hours).

Stew Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 celery rib, fine dice
  • 1 carrot, fine dice
  • 1 small red onion, fine dice
  • 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons sage, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary, chopped fine
  • salt
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups chicken stock or low sodium broth + more if necessary
  • 2 whole cloves, 8 juniper berries, 2 bay leaves and 4-10 peppercorns, tied in cheesecloth

Preheat the oven to 325, rack in the middle.

Remove the pork from the marinade. Rinse off the vegetables and aromatics, drain and then pat the cubes very dry and set aside. Do NOT simmer them, as called for in the original recipe or the meat will become tough. Heat a large, heavy-bottom dutch oven on medium for 5 minutes. Add half the olive oil and, if you pre-heated the pan, it will be hot and shimmery in a matter of seconds. Add the celery, carrot, red onion and garlic and saute until lightly browned. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside. Add the last half of the olive oil and brown the pork cubes, turning them to brown at least two sides. Don't crowd the pan - you may need to brown it in batches.

When this is complete return the vegetables and pork cubes to the pan. Add the sage and rosemary. Season with salt and a pinch of the crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for one minute. Add the wine and simmer until it's nearly evaporated (about 10 minutes). Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and spice bundle and bring to a boil.

Cover the pan and put it in the oven and cook for 1 hour to 1 hour and 40 minutes. Check the dish after 1 hour. If it's getting a little low on the sauce, add an additional cup of chicken stock. The pork cubes should be tender and a fork should turn easily in the cubes , but not entirely fall apart. Taste one to be sure.

Creamy Polenta with Cheese and Parsley
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cups polenta (not instant)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt + more, if necessary
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 oz pecorino romano cheese (or any aged, salty cheese) finely grated. 
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped very fine

 Heat the milk and water in a 3 (or more) qt. sauce pan until it just comes to barely a boil. Immediately add the salt and then the polenta in a thin stream, whisking vigorously for 1 to 3 minutes until it thickens. Turn the heat down to very low and partially cover (this is important as it becomes Vesuvius-y). Stir it occasionally (every 5 minutes) tasting occasionally until it is creamy and very nearly homogenous

Assembling the Servings
Dish some of the polenta into a bowl. Use a slotted spoon to add a serving of pork on top and then ladle some of the stew juices on top of the pork. You may want to start with a fork, but have a spoon at the ready.

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