Crispy Pork Belly with Mashed Pumpkin & Wilted Spinach

Osteria Francescana, a restaurant in Modena with three Michelin stars, was named best restaurant in the world in 2016 and again in 2018. We were in the neighbourhood in late summer 2018, but you need to book months ahead and we hadn’t.

Chef-owner Massimo Bottura also runs a bistro in Modena called Franceschetta 58, so we decided to try and get a reservation for their three course 25 Euro lunch. We arrived in Modena late Sunday morning and while Matthew double parked I dashed in to book a table for one o’clock. There were only two spaces left, at a long thin table for eight where patrons sit on bar stools with other guests. Perfecto, I said, in my best Italian.

A couple of hours wandering around the Sunday markets allowed us to work up an appetite. As we were finishing our meal, which was excellent, a lady sitting next to Matthew, whose son was next to me, asked where we were from and how we had ended up at the restaurant. By her accent she was obviously American. I told her I had watched a Netflix documentary called Chef’s Table and one of the episodes was on Massimo Bottura. Actually, I said, his wife is American. Yes I know, she said, that’s me.

Lara told us a bit about her life in Modena and maintaining the high standards of a world-renowned restaurant. Then she recommended some places to eat well in the region. Today’s blog is my take on the main course we had that day. Simple, but a great combination of flavours.

800g-1kg boneless pork belly with skin
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp each cumin and fennel seeds
½ cup water
500g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 packet baby spinach leaves
Butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic glaze

Pour boiling water over the pork, then pat dry with paper towels and leave in the fridge overnight, uncovered, to dry out.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Pat pork dry again with paper towels. Using a very sharp knife, score skin all over. Place pork in a roasting pan, rub oil over the skin, then sprinkle with salt and seeds. Pour water around the pork, cover with foil, then roast for two hours. Check from time to time and add a dash more water if it dries up.

Turn oven up to 220°C, remove foil and continue to cook for about half an hour, or until pork skin is crispy. If liked, add some parboiled potatoes drizzled with a little oil, to the pan for this last half hour. Cut pork into portions and serve with the pumpkin, the spinach and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Pass the potatoes separately.

Pumpkin: cook in boiling, salted water for 15-20 mins or until tender. Drain then mash thoroughly, adding butter and seasoning to taste. A shake of ground nutmeg goes well. For a more intense flavour roast the pumpkin rather than boiling it.

Spinach: place in a small frying pan with a knob of butter. Stir fry until wilted, then season to taste.

Serves 6

 

 

Sweet and Sour Pork or Chicken

Growing up in the UK, the only foreign food we were exposed to was Chinese, bought as a takeaway for special occasions, or when my mother was too busy to cook. Occasionally we went to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate one of my parents’ birthdays. Sweet and Sour Pork was always one of the dishes we chose.

This Chinese food was not very authentic, but at the time we loved it. In some parts of Britain Chinese restaurants served chips with everything, in order to keep the locals happy. Maybe they still do.

When our kids were growing up they loved the Sweet and Sour Pork I made at home, although they preferred it made with chicken. The recipe works well with either and I make it when I feel like a bit of nostalgic comfort food. The original recipe came from the Australian Women’s Weekly Chinese Cookbook.

500g lean pork or boneless chicken thighs
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs cornflour
1 red capsicum
1 green capsicum
1 medium onion
3 canned pineapple rings
½ cup cornflour, extra
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cloves garlic
Sauce:
3 Tbs vinegar
3 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs tomato ketchup
4 Tbs water
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cornflour

Mix soy sauce, egg yolk and cornflour. Add chicken or pork cut into 2.5cm cubes, cover and leave aside while you prepare the other ingredients. Seed peppers and cut into 2.5cm squares. Peel onion and cut into eighths, then separate into slices, cut pineapple into cubes.

Add extra cornflour to chicken or pork and mix well. Heat about 2.5cm oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry chicken or pork pieces for 4-5 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Drop them into the hot oil one at a time. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour off oil, leaving about 1 Tbs. Add crushed garlic, peppers and onion and cook over high heat, stirring, for 3 mins. Add chicken or pork, pineapple and the sauce and stir until it thickens and boils. Serve with plain boiled rice.

Serves 4-6

Pork with Sour Cream, Bacon, Mushrooms & Chutney

In my late teens I worked as a sales assistant every Saturday in a department store in England called Lefevres. In school holidays I often worked full time, especially at Christmas when they needed extra staff. There were no automatic cash registers back then, so it was great for mental math skills.

Over a period of 4 or 5 years I worked in almost every department in the store – from baby wear, women’s wear, underwear and hardware, to haberdashery, menswear and footwear. My hours were from 9am till 5.30pm with an hour off for lunch. I earned the princely sum of one pound a day. You could do a lot with a pound back then.

If you’ve seen the BBC TV series “Are you Being Served?” which aired in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s you have an idea of what it was like. The place was full of bossy Mrs Slocombe-types, with a distinct hierarchy or pecking order. Everyone was referred to by their surname – first names were verboten.

After a couple of years I was offered the job of Switchboard Operator because the girl who held that position during the week wanted Saturdays off. When things were quiet I used to ring a special number for the recipe of the day. This is one of those recipes and it remains a family favourite to this day. It’s a sort of pork stroganoff. If you don’t like pork use chicken thighs instead. By the way, in case you were wondering, the black bit at the bottom of the photo is a raisin from the chutney!

500g pork fillet, cut into strips
25g butter
100g bacon, in chunky dice
200g small mushrooms, wiped (or larger ones halved)
1 cup tomato chutney
2/3 cup sour cream
S and P
Chopped parsley to garnish

Fry bacon in frying pan without fat, remove from pan. Add butter to pan and brown meat. Add mushrooms, bacon and chutney and cook, stirring for 3 mins. Add sour cream, the cooked bacon and check seasoning. Simmer for a few minutes until meat is tender – doesn’t take long. Garnish with parsley and serve with boiled rice and a green salad or green vegetable.

Serves 4

Variations: use strips of chicken instead of pork

Japanese Meatballs

According to No.1 son, this easy mid-week recipe is the way to get kids to eat broccoli. Well it worked with his two sons who are ten and eight. If you can’t be bothered with the Ponzu sauce just serve the meatballs as they are, or with some soy sauce drizzled over.

1 large head broccoli cut into florets
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs miso paste (see note)
1 Tbs butter
1-2 tsp honey, to taste
2 cups corn (canned or frozen, thawed)
Meatballs:

500g pork mince
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 spring onion, finely chopped
½ cup breadcrumbs (preferably Panko crumbs)
1 Tbs sesame oil
1 egg
1-2 Tbs grated ginger (to taste)
Salt and pepper
To serve:
Steamed rice
1 spring onion, finely sliced on the diagonal
Ponzu Sauce (see note)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix all ingredients for meatballs and form into 2-3cm balls.

Mix broccoli with half the oil, salt and pepper. Line a tray with baking paper, arrange broccoli in one layer then roast for 20 mins. Heat remaining oil in a large non-stick frying pan and brown meatballs all over. Place them on another paper-lined tray and bake them for 5-10 minutes. Broccoli and meatballs should be ready at about the same time.

Wipe out frying pan then add the miso paste and butter and heat to dissolve. Add the corn, broccoli and meatballs and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until coated with the sauce. If mixture seems a bit dry add a couple of tablespoons of water.

Serve the meatballs with steamed rice, garnished with the spring onion. Pass the Ponzu sauce round separately.

Serves 4

Note: Miso paste is a Japanese ingredient available in some supermarkets and Asian shops. If you can’t find Ponzu sauce make your own by mixing 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs each lemon or lime juice and mirin (sweet rice wine), 1 tsp sugar and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Pork San Choy Bau

Wraps have become a popular alternative to sandwiches in the past few years. Supermarkets and cafés offer a wide range and they make a satisfying and healthy lunch.

Start by spreading the wrap with homemade or bought mayonnaise or hummus, then put some protein such as cheese, ham, cold roast chicken, canned tuna or hard-boiled egg in a line down the middle, then whatever else you can find in the fridge – chutney, olives, cucumber, grated carrot, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, a few nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever made the same one twice.

This quick and tasty Chinese recipe uses lettuce cups instead of wraps and is perfect for a mid-week dinner or informal entertaining. Eat them with your fingers – which is a bit messy but the way they’re intended to be eaten – or with a knife and fork. Instead of lettuce cups you could serve the filling in ordinary bread wraps.

2 tsp vegetable oil
500g minced pork
1 chopped onion or 3 shallots
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
1 220g can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
¼ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
2 Tbs sesame oil
1-2 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs Chinese cooking wine or sherry
2 Tbs lemon or lime juice
To serve:
1 iceberg lettuce, separated into cups
2 Tbs sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 shredded spring onions

In a large frying pan heat the oil then add the pork, onion and garlic and stir fry for about 10 minutes over moderately high heat, until onions are soft and pork is broken up and starting to brown. Add ginger and water chestnuts and continue to cook for a couple of minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and stir until sauce has thickened and starting to caramelise.

Serve pork in the lettuce cups garnished with toasted sesame seeds and spring onions. The outside leaves of the lettuce are too large to use for this recipe, so keep them for another meal and use the smaller ones.

Serves 4

Variations:

  • Use beef or chicken mince instead of pork
  • Use Hoisin sauce instead of Oyster Sauce
  • If you don’t have any water chestnuts, leave them out

 

 

Braised Pork Meatballs

With a packet of mince in the freezer and some canned tomatoes and pasta in the pantry you can make any number of delicious meals without going shopping – spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, meatloaf or meatballs to name a few.

Saw this recipe in an old Delicious magazine and got all nostalgic for a time when I used to make meatballs a lot, when we had kids at home. And it was indeed delicious.

Braised Pork Meatballs

Meatballs:
1 kg pork mince
¼ cup sultanas, roughly chopped
¼ cup toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped
2 Tbs grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
1 Tbs roughly chopped fresh marjoram leaves
Pinch nutmeg
Finely grated rind 1 lemon
½ cup breadcrumbs (using day old bread)
1 egg white
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-3 tsp sugar
Sauce:
¼ cup olive oil
1¼ cups chicken stock
2 cans (400g) chopped tomatoes
250g cherry tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
Steamed green vegetable, such as beans, peas, broccoli
Cooked pasta

Mix all ingredients for meatballs and form into about 16 meatballs with wet hands. Place on a plate and chill for about 30 mins.

Heat half the oil in a deep frying pan and cook half the meatballs on all sides or until they are nicely browned, then remove. Repeat with remaining meatballs. Tip off excess oil. Place stock in the pan with the canned and cherry tomatoes and simmer for a few mins. Return meatballs to pan with bay leaves, cover and cook for 20-25 mins or until meatballs are cooked through. From time to time spoon sauce over the meatballs and add a bit of water if it’s getting too thick. Stir in the lemon juice, top with extra parmesan and serve with a green vegetable and some pasta.

Serves 6

Boris and the Barbecue

Early in our marriage we were posted to Israel where we lived in the leafy suburb of Herzliyah Pituach, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It was one of the few times in our lives that we didn’t have a dog, but our neighbours had a boxer called Boris. They travelled a lot and Boris got lonely, so he spent as much time at our house as he did at theirs. When he felt the need for company he’d just turn up and we were always pleased to see him. Well, almost always.

A Minister was visiting from Queensland with his wife and secretary, so we invited them to join us for a very informal barbecue lunch. Matthew headed off late Saturday morning to pick them up, wearing jeans and an open-neck shirt.

Our guests arrived dressed to kill in white linen suits or similar attire. We sat in the garden sipping a glass of wine while Matthew lit the barbecue. Within five minutes Boris had arrived, his little stubby tail wagging excitedly as he sniffed the air in anticipation of things to come. He could smell a barbecue from a mile off.

Boris was a friendly soul and his usual way of greeting new friends was to slobber his way along their knees. As Matthew tried to stop him and apologise Mrs Minister said through clenched teeth “It’s okay we don’t mind dogs.” Her face said differently as she studied the remains of Boris’s breakfast, now smeared all over her white pants.

Matthew poured more wine, everyone relaxed and we moved to the table for lunch – barbecued lamb cutlets and salad, followed by apple strudel. Boris was starting to be a pain, snuffling under the table looking for scraps. Matthew escorted him home twice, but he kept coming back. We decided to give him a couple of chop bones at the far end of the garden, to keep him quiet.

Suddenly the sound of Boris choking interrupted the conversation. Matthew leapt up, rolled up his sleeve and thrust his hand down the dog’s throat to retrieve the bone. Our guests looked on in horror.

You will be relieved to know that Boris survived the ordeal and went on to attend many more barbecues, although bones were strictly off the menu. In honour of our dearly departed four-legged friend here’s a barbecue recipe without bones. It was given to me by an Australian friend in Israel and is very simple but always a winner. The quantities are flexible – if you use more pork just add more soy sauce, garlic and ginger!

Candy’s Barbecued Pork Rashers Candy's Barbecued Pork Rashers

800g to 1 kg pork belly rashers/slices
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated or very finely chopped fresh ginger

If the pork slices have skin, remove it. If they’re very thick slices hammer them out a bit with a meat hammer. Mix soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a shallow dish. Add the pork and turn to coat thoroughly. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours or overnight. Cook for about 15 minutes or so on a hot barbecue, turning a couple of times, or until well cooked and crispy.

Serves 4

Pork Fillets with Crunchy Potatoes and Mango Salsa

Roast Pork with apple sauce is a marriage made in heaven, but pork also goes well with other fruit. This mango salsa can be made in a jiffy and goes well with pork or chicken. If preferred just serve it with some grilled or pan-fried pork chops. Instead of mango try using fresh peaches or nectarines.

I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to pork, because (unlike beef) I like it cooked until it’s no longer pink, as you can see in the photo.

Pork Fillets with Crunchy Potatoes and Mango Salsa

4 medium potatoes, peeled
1 large or 2 smaller pork fillets (about 600g total)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil to spray or drizzle
1 Tbs butter
Salsa:
1 mango, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs fresh coriander, chopped
1 Tbs white wine or cider vinegar
1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
A green vegetable such as steamed asparagus

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until almost cooked. Drain then place on a baking tray lined with foil. Spray or drizzle with olive oil on both sides, then squash them a bit with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat butter in a frying pan with a metal handle that can go in the oven. Season pork all over then brown on all sides in the butter. Place potatoes in the top of the oven and 10 minutes later place the pork on the shelf below. Cook pork for 10-15 mins, by which time the potatoes should be nice and crispy. After ten minutes pork will still be a bit pink in the middle (except at the very thin end) whereas by 15 mins it should be more medium.

Meanwhile cook the asparagus and make the Salsa. For the Salsa mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

Slice pork and serve on a bed of crispy potatoes garnished with the asparagus and the salsa.

Serves 4

Pork Belly Restaurant Style

Pork belly has become a regular addition to restaurant menus over the past couple of years. Its popularity is an indication that people aren’t so scared about eating a bit of fat every now and then, which is good. Succulent, juicy meat with a golden crispy skin, often served with creamy mashed potatoes, pumpkin or sweet potato and some wilted greens, with maybe a tangy sauce or glaze. Delicious.

Getting the pork right takes time, so it’s not something you can whip up in the half hour before dinner. Fortunately most of the work can be done in advance, which is how they achieve perfect results every time you order pork belly in a good restaurant. With this recipe you can do the same. Start the recipe in the morning or even the night before.

I use my coffee grinder to grind up the spices. Son James, a serious coffee drinker, says this is sacrilege. But I do give it a good wipe out afterwards and it makes the next brew of coffee interesting!

Pork Belly Restaurant Style

1.5 kg boneless pork belly, skin scored
2 Tbs olive oil
Spice Mix:
3 tsp dried thyme
1 star anise
1 tsp juniper berries or all spice
1 tsp fennel seeds or coriander seeds
6 whole cloves
½ cup salt
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Sauce:
Reserved pan juices
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
To serve:
Creamy mashed pumpkin (or potatoes or sweet potatoes)
Wilted buttered spinach or kale or roast kale (see below)

Place pork in a shallow dish. Grind thyme and spices in a spice or coffee grinder, or use a mortar and pestle. Mix with salt, garlic and pepper. Rub half over one side of pork, then turn it over and rub the rest into the other side. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight, turning from time to time.

Preheat oven to 150ºC. Rinse pork under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place skin side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to come 2-3 cm up the sides of the pan, but it shouldn’t touch the meat. Cover with foil and roast for 4 hours. Check from time to time to see if water needs topping up. Remove pork from oven and cool. Strain pan juices, place in the fridge and when cold remove and discard the fat from the top. A spoonful of this fat mixed into our dog’s biscuits and he’s in heaven! Use a very sharp knife to cut pork into six neat rectangular servings – you might even get eight, depending on the size you want. Recipe can be prepared ahead to this stage.

About an hour before dinner preheat oven to 200ºC. Place oil in a cold frying pan large enough to take all the pork pieces and swirl to cover the bottom. Choose a pan with a handle which can go in the oven. Rub pork skin with a little salt then arrange the pieces on top of the oil, skin side down. Turn on heat and cook for 15 minutes on medium, or until skin is golden and crunchy. Turn pork over so it’s skin side up and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes to brown the bottom of the meat and heat through.

Meanwhile boil the pumpkin, or potatoes or sweet potatoes and mash them with lots of butter, salt and pepper and maybe a dash of cream. Cook spinach or kale in a little butter until wilted, then season, or roast – see below.

Remove pork from the oven. Place pork pieces on a plate and keep warm while you make the sauce. Tip off all the fat from the pan. Add reserved pan juices, honey and lemon juice and cook over high heat, stirring, for a couple of minutes, until slightly thickened.

Serve pork on a bed of mashed pumpkin (potatoes or sweet potatoes) with some greens on the side. Drizzle the sauce over and around the pork. If liked serve with apple sauce on the side – see below.

For a low carb version just skip the mashed potatoes or pumpkin and serve with more kale or some spinach or other green vegetable.

Serves 6

Roast Kale: An unusual way to cook kale is to roast it. Break off pieces of kale 3-4 cm long and arrange on a baking tray lined with foil. Spray with oil, sprinkle lightly with salt, then place in a hot oven (with the pork) for 5-8 minutes or until turning a bit brown and crispy on the edges. Watch carefully as it burns quickly.

Apple Sauce: peel, core and slice two large Granny Smith apples or cooking apples. Place in a small pan with half a cup of water and 2 Tbs sugar and simmer until soft. Use a potato masher to crush the apples into a chunky sauce and serve at room temperature.

Sticky Pork Ribs with Plums

What the supermarkets here call pork spareribs are actually pork belly rashers, as they have no bones. I bought a packet and was planning to cook them with a sticky sauce. Then my Thai friend Pom gave me some plums, so I decided to throw them in towards the end of the cooking time. The result was delicious with the fruit providing just the right contrast to the richness of the meat.

Sticky Pork Ribs with Plums

8-10 pork belly rashers or spare ribs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs BBQ sauce, or HP sauce or Tomato Ketchup
2 Tbs oyster sauce or Sweet Chilli Sauce
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs honey or brown sugar or maple syrup
1 crushed clove garlic
2-3 tsp grated fresh ginger
About 8 plums

Preheat oven to 180°C. If liked remove rind from the pork. Leaving it on results in chewier pork, but I like it that way. Place pork in a baking pan and season on both sides. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half or until tender, turning them over about halfway through the cooking. Tip off the fat. Mix the three sauces with the honey/brown sugar or maple syrup, garlic and ginger and spread some over the pork. Add the plums, stoned and cut into quarters. Return pan to the oven for about 15 minutes then remove, turn the pork over and spread with remaining sauce. Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes or until nicely glazed and plums are cooked. Serve with steamed rice and steamed bok choy.

Serves 3-4

Variations: leave out the plums altogether if preferred, or substitute peaches or nectarines.