Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pancetta Tesa - Curing Meat the Easy Way

Pancetta Tesa

What if I told you that you could make your own pancetta with almost no effort, and without needing any special equipment or environmental conditions? Well, you can!

We've written about homemade pancetta before - in fact, it was one of our first blog posts and our first step into the world of making our own charcuterie. We've made pancetta numerous times since then, and it has been great every single time.

This latest version is a bit different though. Previously, we have always made rolled pancetta ("pancetta arrotolata"). This time, we decided to be lazy and just do it flat ("pancetta tesa"). Also, while we normally age our meats in our meat/beer/cheese fridge, we realize that not everybody has one of these at their disposal, so we decided to try doing the whole process in our regular refrigerator.

Pancetta Tesa

Whether you are making tesa or arrotolata, the first step is the same. Fresh pork belly gets cured for about a week in a dry rub of salt, brown sugar, garlic, peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves and pink salt. The above picture is what it looks like after this first week of curing.

For tesa, the next part is easy: rinse it, dry it, and then put it on a rack to air dry for about a week - all right in your refrigerator.

We were concerned that the cold, refrigerated air might be too dry and harsh. So, to help prevent the exposed meat from hardening into a little brick, we kept it fat-side-up and elevated only about an inch above a shallow tray. This both protects the tesa and slows the drying time. It worked well and our belly was shiny and reasonably dense after hanging out for eight days. Finally, we put into a plastic bag for a few more days to allow moisture to redistribute and rehydrate any slightly over-dried edges.

It came out looking beautiful - nicely cured and not over-dry:

Pancetta Tesa

And it tasted even better than it looked:

Vegetable hash. Pancetta tesa lardons. Tomato jam. Fried egg.
Potato, zucchini and corn hash with pancetta tesa lardons, tomato jam and a fried egg

How did it compare to previous batches of pancetta we've made? Very favorably, indeed. Maybe not quite as photogenic as the rolled version, but it tasted every bit as good.

So, for those of you who have been procrastinating about taking a stab at curing yourself some meat, you really have no excuse not to do it now.

Pancetta Tesa

1 (2.5 pound) slab pork belly, skin removed
2 tablespoons (30 grams) kosher salt
4 teaspoons (15 grams) brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons pink salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 teaspoons coarsely crushed black pepper
4 teaspoons coarsely crushed juniper berries
2 bay leaves, torn
1/4-1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Trim the belly so that its edges are neat and square.

Combine the ingredients for the cure in a bowl, and mix thoroughly. Place the belly in a nonreactive container just large enough to hold it (or use a sealable plastic bag). Sprinkle the mixture all over the belly, turning it as needed to give it a uniform coating.

Cover and refrigerate for about a week. Flip it over every day and gently redistribute the seasonings with your fingers. After 7 days, check the belly for uniform firmness. If it still feels squishy, return it to the fridge for another 2 or 3 days.

Once cured, remove the belly from the container, rinse it under cold water, and pat it dry. Lightly oil a metal rack and place it on a shallow tray. Place the belly on the rack, fat side up, and refrigerate uncovered for up to two weeks. When the pancetta is nicely solid, but not too hard or dry (usually 6 to 9 days) place it in a plastic bag and return to the refrigerator for another 3 or 4 days. This will help rehydrate any hard edges or corners.

When ready to use, cut into lardons or cubes, saute gently and add to your favorite salad or pasta. Portion the remainder into 2 to 6 ounce pieces and freeze for future use.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Garden

Garden Plot Layout

We really love where we live, but it has a downside - no yard. And as a result, no garden. Sherry has done what she can with our patio space - chiles, small tomatoes, herbs. But we haven't had the space to do anything more substantial. Until recently, that is. The above drawing is the layout of our new garden plot in the Pacific Beach Community Garden.

Who knew that PB had a community garden? We didn't until we stumbled across it two years ago. Sherry put her name on a waiting list, and we promptly forgot all about it. Then, a month or so a go, we got a phone call from the garden coordinator saying that a plot was available. A week later, we had a garden.

Well, more accurately a plot of dirt - but a plot of dirt with potential...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes - And a Hummus Recipe

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

We love grape tomatoes. They are great in salads, with bread and cheese or just as a quick snack. They often taste great at times of the year when larger tomatoes are lacking flavor. And, perhaps most importantly, they are practical for growing on our patio.

A problem with tomatoes, large or small, is that they are feast or famine. You spend weeks and weeks looking at your tomato plants, willing for them to ripen. Then, suddenly they do - all at once. When we have an excess of larger tomatoes, we make hot sauce. When we have too many of the little guys, though, we have taken to oven-drying them.

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

It's pretty simple, really.

Slice them in half and arrange them cut-side-up on a sheet pan that's been lightly anointed with olive oil. Put them in an oven at a very low heat for 6 to 8 hours, or until they've shriveled, but aren't dry and hard.

"Low heat" can be tricky - we use our smaller, warming oven set to about 120 degrees. If you have a toaster oven, you can definitely use that. In a regular oven, just set it to its lowest setting and check after 3 to 4 hours.

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

Once much of the moisture has been released, we pack the tomato "raisins" into jars and cover them completely in olive oil. Stored this way they will keep for months in the refrigerator (just be sure to keep the tomatoes submerged in oil as you use them).

Oven-Dried Grape Tomatoes

You can use these tomatoes just like you would any store-bought "sun"-dried tomatoes. Recently we have really enjoyed them as an accent flavor for hummus.

Hummus with Dried Tomatoes

Hummus may just be the most perfect spread ever invented. The next time you find yourself reaching for that tired jar of miracle whip, whip up a batch of hummus instead.

Hummus with Oven-Dried Tomatoes

This is our go-to hummus recipe with the bonus addition of the tomatoes and hot sauce. We like it on the bright, acidic side. If that isn't your preference, you may want to reduce the lemon juice and/or up the amount of tahini.

1/2 garlic clove
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 tablespoon tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons Oven-Dried Tomatoes
1 tablespoon Taco Shop Hot Sauce

Put garlic into the food processor and pulse to mince. Add drained chickpeas and pulse again.

Scrape down sides of bowl and add tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, tomatoes and hot sauce. Blend until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed.

Taste and supplement any of the ingredients if needed.