Sunday, September 6, 2009

Funghi e Porco Raso con il Pesto e Pasta Casalinga

Even though I don't speak Italian, I thought "Mushrooms and Shaved Pork with Pesto and Homemade Pasta" might sound better that way. Thanks to an online translator, I probably titled this post completely incorrectly, but I'd only find that entertaining and am not particularly fussed by it. Sorry if it insults someone in your family. I'm just trying to have some fun here. Anyway, here's the dish:
The deal to making good, fresh pesto (if you don't just buy some and save yourself a little time and effort) is that you've got to have access to fresh herbs: lots of them! The problem with that is that fresh herbs are expensive to buy, so it's really best to grow your own. Luckily, we're slowly transforming much of our yard into a garden, and herbs grow, at least in the summer months, in plenitude throughout the yard.
For this dish, I gathered rosemary (one sprig), oregano (two sprigs), three kinds of basil, and a little parsley. Since pine nuts are expensive, I didn't put any in my pesto, but I did include some fennel seed that I ground up freshly before I started. Here's my cutting board covered in the herbs (before processing, obviously) and a head of garlic, two cloves of which ended up getting crushed and tossed into the food processor just a few minutes later. To make sure I gathered enough herbs, my process was simple: go pick some herbs until I'm sure I have enough, then pick some more until I'm sure I have too much, and then pick a little bit more because making enough pesto to be the sauce for a whole meal requires quite a lot of leaves. This pile of herbs, in fact, only made about four or five ounces of finished pesto after riding in the food processor with those ground fennel seeds, a little salt, a little black pepper, and a couple of tablespoons of e.v. olive oil.
In this photo you can see the ground up pesto in our little food processor (oxidized to a dark green on top and secretly much brighter green underneath) along side seven sliced up white mushrooms (halved and sliced thinly, as I so often do) and half a red onion, halved and sliced thinly. Processing the pesto really meant little more than turning on the machine with just the fennel seeds in there (about half a teaspoon of them) and letting them grind up for about two minutes, stuffing in all of the leaves (pulled from their stems) and garlic, adding some oil, and grinding in two two-minute bursts, scraping the sides down in between. That's easy if you have access to lots of herbs. In addition to the onions and mushrooms, I also crushed and finely chopped two more garlic gloves to be cooked with the meat. Right after I gathered the herbs, by the way, before I even processed them, I started a pot of salted water on its long trip toward boiling so that I'd be able to cook the pasta as soon as I was ready to.

The meat was pork loin that I bought when the price was right a few weeks ago and promptly froze, not having any particular desire to use it right away. Frozen meat has a distinct advantage over its non-frozen counterpart: it's easy to slice thinly once it's partially thawed (when still hard-frozen, it's hard to cut and freezes your hand off!). I cut off about a one pound chunk, maybe a quarter pound heavier, for this recipe and proceeded to slice it like it's prosciutto, so thinly that sometimes I could see through it. I also cut it into small pieces about the size of quarters or so. Oh, and somewhere in there, I made the dough for the pasta:

  • 2.5 cups of flour (0.5 of which was whole wheat, but that's optional);
  • about 3/4 cup water;
  • half a teaspoon of salt;
  • two gallons of elbow grease.
The process is straightforward: sift the flour and salt into a bowl, make a depression for the water, add the water, combine the ingredients into a doughy ball, a bit on the dry side, turn it out onto a counter, and knead it until it's smooth, roughly 10-15 minutes) or a little longer (if you like chewier pasta). My awesome wife helped out with the kneading this time while I cut up the pork! Once the pasta dough was ready, sitting patiently in its bowl waiting for me to pull it (I pulled it instead of shaving it this time) and the pork was sliced up, the cooking, which was quick, quick, began.
First, I tossed the mushrooms and onions into a searing-hot, large frying pan with a little olive oil and added a bit of salt, a little pepper, and some red pepper flakes. I let them cook until the onions went translucent and then poured all of it out of the pan and back onto the plate where they had been waiting for me. While that were cooking, I pulled the pasta out with my thumb (in a hard pinch) and tore it off into pieces into the boiling water. Here's what it looked like when they were all in there -- notice how, for the most part, they've all sunk. They'll float, or at least some will, when they're ready. After pouring out the veggies, I added a little more oil to the pan, let it regain its heat for a few seconds, and added the pork and garlic with a little salt. Stirring it a lot, I cooked that until the pork was just barely not finished cooking, at which point I added the vegetables back in and mixed everything together. Just then, I drained the pasta, which was done (after about 4-5 minutes in the water), splashed a little red wine vinegar (because I don't have any white wine vinegar) over the meat and veggies mixture, and added the herb part of the pesto to the pan. After stirring it in a little, I added the pasta, stirred much more actively, and then added about a fourth of a cup of fresh grated Parmesan cheese (to "finish" the pesto).

Stirring finished it, and I served it up in heaping mounds to the delight of all.

Tonight, I think, will be another rendition of JB's beef and potatoes stew with the added bonus of a large number of sliced shiitake mushrooms!

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