Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Coppa di Testa

Coppa di Testa

The dish we made with our goodies from Northgate Market is Coppa di Testa. The Italian version of head cheese, testa is truly fantastic stuff. It is a sort of sausage-meets-terrine made of cooked pork pieces and spiced broth set into a firm gelatin mold. Thinly sliced, you can eat it cold with crusty bread or warmed to release the gelatin broth's saucy goodness. If you can obtain the ingredients, it's surprisingly simple to make.

First you need pig's feet (trotters) to contribute sufficient gelatin to the stock. You can use powdered gelatin instead, but using the real thing adds flavor to the mix, in addition to structure.

Pigs Feet

A few pork tongues for extra meatiness (optional, but an easy addition).

Pork Tongues

And of course testa just couldn't be testa (Italian for "head") without a nice pig's head to provide loads of silky pork texture and flavor. If you are brave, you can click on the image below to see the head we used.

And from the other side:

As you can see (if you peeked), we used a half a pig's head, split down the middle. None of our recipe references commented on the brain, so we were wary and discarded it.

Our version of testa is spiced with the sweet and aromatic flavors of cinnamon, cloves, coriander, allspice and nutmeg plus the deep flavored herbs thyme, bay and parsley. Carrot, celery and onion are all standard additions to almost any stock or stew. Black peppercorns and plenty of salt round out the mix.

Everything gets simmered in a very large stockpot until the meats are tender and literally falling off the bone. We found that it's a lot like making a big pot of turkey soup, just slightly different ingredients.

When it comes out, it looks like this:

Sorting through the cooked meats for the "edible" pieces was a bit of a challenge (since neither of us is very familiar with knuckle, snout or ear) and we may have discarded some true treasures. An Italian grandmother offering a few pointers would've been appreciated.

But, after peeling the skin off the tongues and chopping everything into irregular pieces we were rewarded with a brimming bowl of yummy, sticky, bite-sized pork morsels.

Before molding the testa, scoop some broth onto a plate and chill it. If there's enough gelatin it should set up quickly and spring back when pressed. We stirred the gel in this photo so it looks a bit soft set, but you can see it's solid toward the left.

Finally, the meat goes into a mold with enough spicy gelatin broth to just cover and the whole thing gets chilled overnight.

The result - a beautifully marbled slab of porcine goodness.

Here is a slice that has been warmed on a plate until the gelatin melts into a rich, sticky sauce:

When making the testa, we relied primarily on the recipe from Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand, but we also referenced Charcuterie, The Whole Beast and The Babbo Cookbook.

I was amused to find that we own *at least four* cookbooks with variations on this dish. Below is the recipe we ended up with.

Coppa di Testa

A 16 quart pot is *just* big enough. Use an aggressive amount of salt, especially if you intend to eat this cold since flavors are muted at cooler temperatures. We found it was easier to slice using a serrated bread knife and when set "upright" rather than inverted.

1/2 pig's head (about 4.5 pounds)
2 pig's feet (1.75 pounds total)
3 pig tongues (2 pounds total)
6 quarts cold water (or as needed)
Several small, fresh thyme sprigs
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
25 allspice berries, cracked
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/8 piece nutmeg
Several large parsley sprigs
2 celery stalks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in half
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
75 grams (1/4 cup) kosher salt

Rinse the head, feet (trotters) and tongues under cold water. Remove and discard the brain from the cut side of the head. Place the pig parts into a large stockpot and cover with cold water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil and skim off the scum that floats to the top.

While the pot is heating, place the thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, corriander seeds and nutmeg onto a small square of cheesecloth and tie into a loose bundle with kitchen twine. Tie the parsley together with twine to make it easier to remove.

Reduce heat to a simmer and add the spice bundle, parsley, celery, carrot, onion and salt to the pot. Cook gently for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meats are very tender. Skim foam from the surface as needed.

Using long tongs, remove the tongues after the pot has been simmering for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut off the skin with a small knife. Trim away any grissle and cut the tongue meat into irregular 1/2-inch pieces. Put into a bowl with a little of the cooking liquid and keep warm in a low oven while the rest of the pork cooks.

When the meats are tender, carefully move the head and feet to a large tray to cool. Pick through the trotters and keep any bits of meat found around the knuckles. Remove all the meat from the head, plus some of the snout (not quite meat, not quite fat) and a little of the soft, tender skin pieces. Chop the meat into irregular pieces from about 1/2-inch to an inch each. Cut the snout and skin pieces smaller, about 1/4-inch. Mix the tongue pieces with the head and feet meats.

Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into another large pot. Scoop a large ladleful of broth onto a plate and chill to check the geletin content. When cooled, maked sure the gel has set up nicely and springs back when pressed. If not, return the stock to the heat and simmer to reduce it somewhat, then check again.

Line a loaf pan or terrine with plastic wrap and fill with the meats. Pour enough cooking liquid into the mold to completely cover, then tap the pan on the counter to try to remove trapped air bubbles. Fold the plastic wrap over the top and chill the testa overnight. To serve, remove from the mold and slice thinly. Eat at room temperature with crusty bread or on a warm plate to soften the gelatin.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Guess What We're Making...

In our last post on Northgate Market, I mentioned that we get products there that we have trouble getting elsewhere. Well, there is a dish we've been wanting to make for a while now.

But the ingredients can be hard to come by.

Not a problem at Northgate, though. Any guesses what we're making? All will be revealed soon...

Friday, November 23, 2007


Sometimes we do a straight up traditional Thanksgiving meal, and sometimes we put a twist on things. This year we went in a Moroccan flavor direction. We rubbed the turkey with North African spices and served a couple of side dishes from a Moroccan cookbook Sherry recently got me.

The highlight of the meal for me, though, was the yams. We roasted them whole (just like I had them at Thanksgiving growing up) and served them with a Moroccan-spiced compound butter. Fantastic!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Northgate Market - Ceviche

If you live in the San Diego area and haven't been to Northgate Market, you are really missing out. Northgate is a large full-service supermarket that specializes in Mexican and other Latin American foods. We found out about this gem just this past summer, and have been able to get products there that we haven't been able to find elsewhere (such as the ingredients for our Anticuchos).

On a recent visit, Sherry picked up two of their ceviches - one with fish, shrimp and green chile, and another with fish, shrimp and octopus.

They were similar, but we liked the one without the octopus better. The octopus was fine, but overall the ceviche was more salty and we really liked chile flavor in the other one.

Ceviche and tortilla chips make a perfect light lunch. Northgate's house brand of chips are fantastic - as good as we've ever had.

So go check out Northgate Market. It is really easy to get to. From 805 south of 94, you just get off on the 43rd St. exit. It lets out right in front of the market.

View Larger Map

Northgate Market
1410 S. 43rd St.
San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 266-6080

Monday, November 19, 2007

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham - The Moms Weigh In

Turns out that you should make sure you have your facts straight before taking on long-time family recipes. Both Moms were quick to respond to our Scalloped Potatoes and Ham post.

Sherry's Mom let us know that she never called the dish "Potato-Ham Scallop" (that's just the name of the closest recipe we found in the Better Homes and Gardens cook book) and that her version is a variation on her Mom's scalloped potatoes. She also trumped our 80's "vintage" edition of the cook book by informing us that hers is from the 60's.

My Mom wrote to tell us that she never had a recipe (which is why we couldn't find it). She just makes a white sauce and adds the other ingredients.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

We are moving into comfort food season (even in San Diego - don't try to tell me that we don't have seasons here) and I've been sick so we've been leaning even farther that way. Scalloped Potatoes and Ham is a dish from both of our childhoods. Well, sort of. Sherry's was called Potato-Ham Scallop. I'm pushier than Sherry is, so we make my version. I'm sure I got the recipe from my Mom at some point, but we couldn't find it so Sherry cobbled together a version from two recipes in the good-old "red and white cookbook" (the undisputed king of childhood cuisine, at least for us). We use a vintage (i.e. 80's) edition.

The two recipes are Potato-Ham Scallop (Sherry's childhood dish) and Scalloped Potatoes (which is different in preparation in that it uses a white sauce). The combining of the two recipes (not to mention finding them) is left as an exercise to the reader.

One hint, though - neither recipe uses cream of mushroom soup, which is unusual for the era...

Scalloped Potatoes and Hame

Update: Ok, this post is getting visited a lot by people presumably searching for a recipe. The last time we made the dish Sherry wrote down what she did:

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham
The potatoes cook more quickly and evenly in a wide, shallow dish rather than a deep casserole.
8 oz ham, cut into 1/4 thick slices (about 2 cups)
2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 thick slices (6 medium)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1/2 wide strips
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5-6 tablespoons flour
2 1/3 cups milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the 1/4 cup chopped onion and gently sweat until translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and use a whisk to mix into a thick, somewhat dry paste. Cook 2-3 minutes whisking constantly. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Season with kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally and gently cook for about five minutes. Sauce should be creamy, well seasoned and fairly thick.

Spread a couple spoonfuls of sauce onto the bottom of a wide, lidded casserole or braiser. Using about a third of the potatoes, create a layer of slightly overlapping slices in the casserole. Tear the ham slices into uneven pieces and place about a third of them over the potatoes. Follow with about a third of the onion strips and top with a third of the white sauce. Repeat twice more with the remaining potatoes, ham, onions and sauce. If the sauce is too thick to drizzle evenly over the top, whisk it over low heat for a couple minutes or until it loosens sufficiently.

Cover the casserole and place into the oven for about 60 minutes. Test the potatoes with a toothpick or fork - when just tender, increase the oven temp to 375 and return the pan to the oven, uncovered for another 15-20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Let rest at room temperature 5-10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

North African Pork Tenderloin with Cauliflower Couscous and Tomato Onion Salad

We recently had a request for this recipe. It was a first-time experiment, but it came out nicely. The only issue we had with it was that the chickpeas in the couscous were overcooked. We have adjusted the cooking time in the recipe below to compensate. We haven't yet gotten around to trying it again, though, so let us know how it turns out if you make it.

North African Pork Tenderloin with Cauliflower Couscous and Tomato Onion Salad

One tenderloin prepared as directed will yield 3 servings, while the couscous and salad will serve 4 to 5. It is easy to make two tenderloins, just double the rub amounts and continue as directed.

For each Pork Tenderloin:

1 (approx. 1 pound) whole Pork Tenderloin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the Couscous:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
Kosher salt
3 cups small cauliflower florets (1/2 to 1-inch pieces)
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large shallot, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup couscous
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

For the Salad:

1 pint grape tomatoes
1 small white onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400' F. Sprinkle the salt onto the garlic clove and mince together until the garlic and salt forms a paste. Mix in the 1/4-teaspoon cumin and 1/8-teaspoon ceyanne.

Trim the tenderloin removing most of the tough silverskin. Cut a couple of inches off the thin, pointy end so that you have a more uniform shape - it will cook more evenly. Save the small piece for another use. Rub the garlic mixture all over the pork and leave at room temperature about 30 minutes.

Prepare the Salad: cut each grape tomato crosswise into 2 or 3 pieces. Thinly slice and then chop the onion into 1/2-inch lengths. Mix together the tomato, onion, cilantro, vinegar and salt (about 1/4 teaspoon). Taste for seasoning and adjust with additional vinegar or salt as needed. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Prepare the Couscous: Mix together the 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon tumeric and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Put the cauliflower florets on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss gently. Place into the hot oven. After 15 minutes, add the shallot slices and chickpeas to the pan and roast an additional for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. Right after placing the chickpeas in the oven, heat the chicken broth on high in a small saucepan. As soon as it reaches a boil, stir in 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and the couscous. Immediately remove from the heat and cover with a lid. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and stir in the roasted cauliflower and chickpeas. Drizzle the teaspoon of vinegar over the couscous and toss. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Finish the Pork Tenderloin: Heat an oven-proof frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Sear the pork tenderloin, 2-3 minutes per side or until nicely browned. Put the pan into the 400' oven for 15-17 minutes (you can do this while the cauliflower is still cooking) . When done, remove from oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing into 1/2-thick medalions.

Serve the salad, couscous and sliced pork together on warmed dinner plates.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Corn Bread Bites

Mike spotted these tasty little mini-muffins in a recent copy of Cooking Light. They're distinctively different than standard cornbread since they include sharp cheddar, a little sour cream and green onions. But what makes them really special is the additional corny-ness and moistness from the use of canned creamed corn (and, of course, their diminutive size).

It seems we never prepare a recipe completely "as-is" and we have modified this one just a tad as well. First change: no creamed corn. Instead, we use regular canned sweet corn and coarsely puree it in a food processor along with a little of the canned corn's liquid. It's not quite as sweet as creamed corn and it adds great texture.

Our second change is the addition of green chiles. We buy canned whole green chiles and then rinse them before giving them a fine dice. And occasionally, a couple tablespoons of finely chopped poblano chile or a minced serrano gets thrown in as well. Another small change that makes a big difference is salt -- use at least 1/2 teaspoon instead of only 1/4.

Something about their size, moist texture and flavorful add-ins make these little Corn Bread Bites (aka Crack-Muffins) pleasantly addictive.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Eggs In Purgatory

Ok, ok -- two Mario Batali recipes in a row risks revealing us for the fanboys we are, but Eggs In Purgatory sounded really good this morning. The recipe comes from Mario's Holiday Food cookbook and you can find the recipe here. We make it mostly without modification (other than omitting the olives -- I'm not a big fan).

The key technique, which gives the recipe its name, is cooking the eggs in the sauce by making little nests and dropping the eggs in.

As a variation on this recipe, we also do a Mexican-flavored take. We substitute cilantro for the basil, add some chiles and serve it with black beans.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

October In Review

Whew! It's been quite a month. Here is October in review. As always, you can roll over any of the images and click to see a larger picture. If you would like the recipe for any of the dishes we didn't blog, just let us know.