My husband says I am famous for holding very strong opinions which I then completely reverse at a whim. For example, the fact that I refused to try Buffy the Vampire Slayer for many years-and then one day he came home from work (I was in-between jobs) to find me on my 3rd episode, shushing him when he tried to talk to me. I now own all 7 seasons and can recite lines from the show. I also used to swear that I did not enjoy baking. Then one day I had a baby, and, well, you’ve all seen this blog. The latest example? Mediterranean cooking.
It is difficult for me to pinpoint what exactly turned me away from Mediterranean cooking. I guess for one thing, I associated it with Italian American food, which, while enjoyable, I do not love and I, perhaps in reaction to it being the cuisine of choice for my family, tend to enjoy exploring other cuisines. For another thing, as many of you know, I only starting eating seafood in the last year or two, and since the Mediterranean is a sea it only stands to reason that its cuisine is heavily influenced by seafood.
I think more than anything else though I tend to be drawn to exploring different cuisines at different points in my life. Because Mediterranean food is so popular in America I frequently felt forced to defend why I was not interested in it-whereas the reality was that I should have said that I was just more interested in other foods at that point in my life.
Well no longer. First I started to get a little interested in Spanish and Greek food. Then I started planning this trip to Morocco. I started collecting Moroccan cookbooks, but in many of these cookbooks, Morocco is grouped in with other countries and cultures of the western Mediterranean, such as Tunisia, Algeria, Spain, southern Italy, France and Greece. And the more I started reading the more I realized that if I was attracted to the foods of northern Africa I ought to be equally interested in the foods of southern Europe. Their cuisines are all influenced by one another, leading to subtle and some not so subtle variations on similar themes. And best of all they seem to love one pot dishes, which are my bread and butter.
The minute I saw this dish in Paula Wolfert’s The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook I knew I was going to make it. I love pork, I love beans, and I love fruit with pork especially. I saved it for a mid-level special occasion (my in laws came into town) but don’t let the various steps deter you. This method was so successful that I actually used it a few days later on a dish with a different flavor profile. I’ll talk about the method more when I share that dish.
- 2 cups (1/2 lb) dried Greek gigantes beans, I found Rancho Gordo's Christmas Lime Beans to be an excellent sub
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-3 large pieces
- 1 zest of orange, removed in long, wide strips
- salt and pepper, to taste
- approx. 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably a Greek cooking oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 t Aleppo pepper, I like the coarse
- 1 t crushed yellow mustard seeds
- 1 cup sweet red wine, Greek Mavrodaphne, Madeira or Marsala
- 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh tomato, I used frozen, if it is winter and you have none choose a good canned tomato
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Although I am not normally a huge fan of soaking (especially because I use super fresh beans from places like Rancho Gordo), I think it is important in this dish as you will not be just straight cooking the beans like normal.
The next day, place the beans in a large pot with their water--add enough additional water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, skimming the foam, and add one bay leaf. Cover and let very gently simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy. For me this was about 1 hour, but I like to let the beans barely simmer.
In the meantime, place the meat in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add the other bay leaf and bring to a boil. Skim the foam and reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Let cook for about 60 minutes at a very slow simmer (if you simmer it harder, remove at about 30 minutes). I like lower and slower.
While the beans and meat are cooking, bring a small pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Blanch the orange zest strips 3 times (Wolfert does not address why you do this, but it definitely made the zest tender and easy to chew). When you are done, use a knife or scissors to shred the zest into skinny strips. Set aside.
Remove the meat, reserving the cooking broth, and set aside to cool. Boil the remained broth down to 1 cup.
Drain the beans, reserving about 1 cup of the bean broth. Set both aside.
Cut the pork into 1/2-inch pieces--it should be juicy and barely cooked. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
While the pork broth is reducing, heat a large, straight-sided skillet over medium high heat. Add the extra virgin olive oil. When it is hot, add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the pork and garlic and cook for another 3 minutes, then add the beans. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in the Aleppo, crushed mustard seeds, wine, reduced pork broth, orange juice and zest, chopped tomatoes and scant teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cover. Let simmer for 30 minutes. If it seems to have too little liquid, add some reserved bean broth.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Taste the beans for additional seasoning, but note that the broth will be decidedly orange and decidedly alcoholic at this point (I was really nervous!); both of the these attributes will mellow after baking.
Place the pork and beans into a baking dish (2 1/2 qt). Bake for 45 minutes, during which time a lot of the liquid will cook off (if it cooks off before the 45 minute mark, take it out then). My liquid never completely cooked off, so I served it with rice (couscous would work too) and it was fantastic so I did not worry about it.
Serve warm with rice or couscous--or without, to your taste. Place additional Aleppo flakes at the table for those who would like it spicier.
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