Friday, April 24, 2009

Braised Pork with Prunes

I've been so busy lately that I haven't even had time to tell you about this:

To be fair (on me), I have been busy organising this conference for the past few weeks. But now that the B for BAD dust has settled there's no excuse to not get on with things in the kitchen. In fact, I've been dying to. Eating out lots - something that invariably happens when one is very busy - always takes its toll on me. I can do it for a couple of days in a row, but then the effects of what must be so much more oil and sugar and salt in (even good) restaurant food start to kick in and I feel sluggish. Or maybe it's just that I can't help but order the duck every time. In any case, I need home-cookin' real bad.

Braised Pork with Prunes was the first recipe I tried from the 2009 reissue of Delia Smiths's Frugal Food (originally published 1976) and we've made it a number of times since already. The frugal thing is really a bonus; what makes me just about stamp my feet in excitement is how awesomely British the food is. I haven't got around to the Kipper Quiche or the Spiced Apple Shortcake yet, but you can bet I will. It is food that reminds a bit of my Australian grandmother, Mavis. It is British food before Jamie Oliver, but before the proliferation of take-away, too.

Despite the less-than-inspiring photographs this week, I promise that this is delicious - especially if you're the kind of person that usually orders the duck. It is sweet and sticky and rich and is a complete meal made entirely in one pot (not including the pan from the celeriac puree we served it with). And it is gold for those that love that heavenly coupling of dried fruit sweetness and slow-roasted meat. Gold. I've only changed the order in which things are done to minimise washing up - otherwise the recipe is entirely Delia's. Enjoy.

Braised Pork with Prunes
From Delia's Frugal Food. Serves 4

700g lean (or trimmed) belly pork or spare ribs, cut into cubes or pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
6 juniper berries, crushed
1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (you could use dried)
225g brown onions, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
110g prunes, halved and pitted
1 large Granny Smith (or other cooking) apple, peeled, cored and sliced
A large pinch of caster sugar
700g potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
Small knob of butter
150ml dry cider or white wine
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 170°C/325°F.

Heat oil in an oven-proof casserole over medium heat and fry onion and garlic until softened. Remove and set aside. Fry pork pieces in same pot until browned. After arranging them fairly evenly, season and sprinkle over the juniper berries and thyme. Layer in the onions and tuck in the prune pieces here and there. Arrange the apple slices over this and sprinkle them ever so lightly with the caster sugar. Next layer over potato slices, overlapping and season. Dot butter here and there over potatoes and pour in the cider or wine. Cover and cook in oven for 1.5 hours. When cooking time is done, increase heat to 220°C/450°F and remove the lid from your pot. Pop back into the oven for around 20 minutes until everything looks delicious and golden. Voila.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

(Cheat's) Ricotta Cannoli

This week I learnt that even when things are so busy that you can't find time to do your washing, there's still enough time to make cannoli. Amazing, huh? So I thought I'd better share, pronto.

The trick is, of course, to buy ready-made cannoli shells from the Italian grocery store and pipe them full of a light mixture of fresh ricotta, chocolate, pistachios and dried sour cherries. This means that these delicious Italian afternoon coffee-time treats are ready in only ten minutes. I served them the other evening as the dessert course of a late Friday night supper and they were a perfectly light conclusion to a lovely evening of wine and small bites.

I love all kinds of cannoli (including those stuffed with chocolate Italian pastry cream), but the ricotta versions are genius, I think. You could make them without the cherries or use cranberries instead, or just use nuts and cinnamon. Just tailor them to your preference and you can't really go wrong. If you've got 15 minutes to spare, you're set: 10 minutes to make, 5 minutes to enjoy with a strong espresso. And then maybe you can put the washing on.

Note: For Melbourne readers, I bought these cannoli shells at Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney Rd, Brunswick (a must-visit if you've never been). They are made in Italy and come in a pack of 10 and keep well in an air-tight container. Otherwise, try Italian grocery stores and bakeries.

(Cheat's) Ricotta Cannoli

6 large ready-made cannoli shells

About 400g fresh ricotta
4 tbsp icing (confectioners) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
50g chopped pistachio nuts
50g dark or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or grated
1/3 cup dried sour cherries, pitted and chopped

Break ricotta into a medium bowl and sift sugar over. Add vanilla, lemon zest and cinnamon and beat with a handheld electric beater until smooth and well combined. Fold in remaining ingredients.

Place mixture into a piping bag with a large nozzle (or a strong freezer bag with a corner cut off) and pipe into shells. Cannoli are ready but keep quite well for a day covered in the fridge.
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