Sunday, April 19, 2009

Recipes: Home-Cured Flat Pancetta & Edamame and Mushroom Risotto with Pancetta

Bacon’s smell wafting through the air is so enticing that even committed vegetarians are sometimes tempted to stray from their virtuous path. These days I mainly use bacon and pancetta as flavor-boosting ingredients; it’s been years since I ate it on its own.

Since I use bacon to boost flavor, I buy the best available. So I was intrigued to read on
Kits Chow, that Christine’s Home-Cured Bacon was so good, her husband asked her not to buy bacon from the store anymore. I had to try it.

Although I’ve visited
Kits Chow more than once over the past year, I was there recently because I was paired with Christine for March’s Taste and Create. Invented by Nicole of For the Love of Food, Taste and Create is one of my favorite food writing events. Every month Nicole pairs participating food writers; each is responsible for trying one recipe from the other’s blog and writing about it.

Some months it can be a challenge to find something I want to write about on my partner’s blog (although I’ve always found something delicious to make). Other months there’s an abundance of recipes I can’t wait to try; this was an abundant month. I haven’t made it yet, but Christine’s simple
Ginger Custard will appear on our table shortly after I next go shopping.

Christine writes from an Asian perspective, while I focus on Mediterranean foods, but there are many similarities in our cooking styles. We both emphasize foods made with fresh, locally available products, and enjoy making ingredients from scratch.

Christine shares my passion for creating variations on a theme. For example, she recently wrote about and photographed a
series of grilled cheese sandwiches; every time I look at this post, I crave an immediate grilled cheese fix. I also appreciate Christine’s creative Asian-Hellenic fusion cooking.

But back to the bacon.

Christine used a
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe from the Guardian to make her bacon. The recipe is simple: pork belly is liberally coated with a dry-rub of salt, sugar, and spices, and then cured in the refrigerator for several days.

The result was delicious: meaty, juicy, and mouth-watering. I’m calling it flat pancetta rather than bacon because it isn’t smoked (a hallmark of American bacon). And since I renamed it pancetta, I used the meat to flavor a wonderful risotto made with edamame beans and garlicky sautéed mushrooms. I’m only sorry there isn’t any leftover risotto; writing the recipe has left me wanting more.

Homemade PancettaHome-made Flat Pancetta
Adapted from
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall via Kits Chow
The original recipe recommended curing the meat at least 4 days, or as long as 10, draining the juices and applying more cure every 24 hours. I stopped the process on the fourth day because the pancetta was getting too salty for my taste. Since I cured it for shorter than called for in the original recipe, and because the recipe doesn’t include nitrites or nitrates, I froze all the pancetta I didn’t use right away rather than worrying about spoilage. The best place to buy meaty pork belly is in Asian markets (in Anchorage, Sagaya is the best source). Be sure to look the pork over carefully and buy the meatiest piece you can find. Once, in desperation, I bought a frozen piece of pork belly wrapped in freezer paper. The butcher repeatedly assured me the meat was skin-on; it wasn’t, plus the “meat” was 90% fat. The fault was my own for buying meat sight unseen.

Curing mix:
2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. juniper berries
5 bay leaves
1 1/3 cup kosher salt (3/4 pound)
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar (1/4 pound)

2 pieces meaty pork belly, with skin, 1 1/2 – 2 pounds each

Make the Curing Mix: Grind the peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries, and bay leaves in a spice grinder, or pound them in a mortar and pestle until they are finely crushed. Mix the ground spices with the salt and brown sugar.

Curing Pancetta - Day 1Day 1: Rub each piece of pork belly with the curing mix until the meat is well coated and every nook and cranny is covered with the mix. Put the meat in a glass or other non-metallic container. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Curing Pancetta - Day 2Day 2: After 24 hours, pour off all the liquid that has leached out of the pork and rub the meat with more curing mix until it is once again well coated.

Day 3: Repeat Day 2.

Day 4: Rinse off all the cure under cold running water. Dry the meat very thoroughly. Wrap in wax paper, parchment paper, or cheesecloth and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use (before choosing storage method, read the above headnote).

Edamame and Mushroom Risotto with PancettaEdamame and Mushroom Risotto with Pancetta
Serves 4
The mushrooms need to be sautéed in batches to ensure they brown properly; if you try to brown all the mushrooms at one time, they’ll steam rather than brown. Because home-cured pancetta can be salty, be sure to lightly salt the mushrooms or the finished dish may be too salty (the mushrooms need some salt to ensure they cook properly). Pancetta is often sold in packages of very thinly cut pre-sliced meat. Although I use pre-sliced pancetta in a pinch, I mostly buy pancetta direct from the deli counter (if I’m not making my own at home). I ask for either a chunk of pancetta, which I hand slice and dice at home, or have the deli staff cut the pancetta into slices the thickness of thick bacon. With thicker slices, eaters enjoy bursts of pancetta flavor when devouring the risotto; thinner slices tend to melt into the other flavors.

1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, cut in 1/4” slices (about 2 cups sliced)
1/2 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut in 1/4” slices (about 2 cups sliced)
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic, divided

3/4 cup diced home-cured or store-bought pancetta (rind removed), 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onions, 1/4” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
10 ounces shelled edamame beans, blanched if fresh or thawed if frozen
6 Tbsp. minced fresh mint, divided
6 – 7 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup freshly (and finely) grated parmesan cheese

Cook the Mushrooms: Sauté the cremini mushrooms, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil, until the mushrooms are nicely browned. Stir in half the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove the browned mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with the shiitake mushrooms, using the remaining olive oil, butter, and garlic.

Make the Risotto: In a sauté pan large enough to hold the finished risotto, sauté the pancetta until the fat renders and the pancetta begins to brown. Stir in the onions, lightly seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the rice to completely coat it with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, bring to a medium boil, and cook, stirring, until the wine is almost all absorbed.

Add 1/2 cup of stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock is almost all absorbed. Keep adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until each addition of stock is almost absorbed. When the rice is half done, stir in the edamame beans and 5 Tbsp. mint. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point, and finished right before serving. If you make it ahead, after you take the rice off the burner, stir it until it cools down before adding the edamame and mint.)

Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until the rice is tender, but still firm in the center (this takes 18 – 22 minutes total). There may be stock left over. Stir in the reserved mushrooms, remaining 1 Tbsp. mint, and 1/2 cup grated parmesan. If necessary, add stock until the risotto is the consistency you desire; it should be moist and creamy, not thick and dry. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

Serve immediately with the remaining grated parmesan on the side for sprinkling on top.
This is an entry for My Legume Love Affair – 9th Helping (MLLA9), created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook, which I hosted in March 2009. My Legume Love Affair - 10th Helping for April 2009 is being hosted by Courtney of Coco Cooks.

Ingredient: Tepary Beans with Recipe for Tepary Bean and Vegetable Stew

The snow in our front yard is nearly gone, the ice in the pond has melted, and spring is quickening. After our difficult winter, I’m looking forward to seasonal change even more eagerly than usual.

Speaking of winter, the overwhelming support from the blogging community during my father’s long illness and ultimate death was much appreciated. It’s not easy to lose a parent, but the kindness and concern shown by so many helped. Thank you all so much.

Because I spent so much of the winter in Washington near my parents, I was able to see my sister regularly, to my great joy. Though we’re two years apart and have the closeness that comes from childhood bedroom-sharing, as adults we’ve always lived far away from each other. It was indescribably soul-satisfying to have her (and her husband and dogs) be part of daily life the last few months.

Shopping for food and cooking dinner with my sister brought new life to what too often are routine activities. Despite our years apart, we’ve developed similar cooking styles and work together smoothly and easily in the kitchen.

One of the projects we undertook was finding and cooking tepary beans for My Legume Love Affair Ninth Helping. Despite searching in numerous Seattle area stores, we were unable to find tepary beans and resorted to ordering them
online. When they arrived, we made Tepary Bean and Vegetable Stew and loved it. I’ll definitely be cooking with tepary beans again.

Tepary Beans

Tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius) are a bush bean originating in the desert areas of Mexico and the American Southwest. They grow best in extreme heat and under very dry conditions. Tepary beans’ taproot is twice as long as common beans’ (Phaseolus vulgaris), which allows teparies to efficiently take advantage of even small amounts of soil moisture.

Nutritionally, tiny tepary beans (1/4” long, the size of large lentils) are higher in protein, iron, calcium, and fiber than most beans. Their nutritional benefits, sweet, nutty flavor, and relatively quick cooking time make teparies well worth searching out.

Jay Bost, in the
June 2006 Seeds of Change newsletter, wrote a fascinating article about tepary beans. His discussion of the growing conditions under which teparies thrive makes me interested in trying them in Greece, which has the necessary hot dry summers:

“Due to its native habitat in the Sonoran Desert, domesticated tepary beans … are considered by many to be the most drought-tolerant annual legume in the world. They are capable of producing a harvest of beans with a single rain in the harshest conditions; when irrigated, they produce higher yields only up to a certain point, after which excess moisture becomes a detriment and leads to overproduction of foliage and low bean production. In fact, it appears that moisture stress is necessary to trigger fruiting. Part of the tepary bean's secret to success in dry areas is to grow quickly when water is available. While pinto beans take 90 to 120 days to maturity, teparies take only 75 to 85. As water shortages become a reality in many parts of the U.S. and around the world, teparies will undoubtedly play an important role in dryland agriculture. In fact, tepary cultivation is now taking place in dry areas of Africa and is being revived in southern Arizona.”

Bost details teparies’ nutritional benefits:

“Part of the tepary bean's appeal, in addition to its drought tolerance, is its superior nutritional content. It has a higher protein content (23–30%) than common beans such as pinto, kidney, and navy, as well as higher levels of oil, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and potassium. While higher in all of these desired nutrients, tepary beans are lower in polyunsaturated fat and in the anti-enzymatic compounds which make common beans hard to digest (Hamama and Bhardwaj 2002). … Tepary beans are proving to be an ideal food for people prone to diabetes or suffering from diabetes owing to the beans' high fiber level, which make them a "slow-release food"; that is, tepary beans' sugars are released slowly and steadily, rather than in a spike as in many high carbohydrate, low fiber foods common in our diets.”

Ark of Taste is a list of endangered food plants and animals that the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity seeks to protect and defend. Tepary Beans are now on the Ark of Taste list for the United States.

I can’t wait to start playing around in the kitchen with tepary beans, and hope to soon convince a local store to carry them!

Tepary Bean and Vegetable StewTepary Bean and Vegetable Stew
Serves 4
Adapted from Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington (Chronicle Books 2008)
Tepary beans’ firm texture and sweet flavor pair well with most vegetables. This stew includes peppers, green beans, zucchini, and tomatoes, all of which, like tepary beans, originate in the Americas. I roast red peppers directly over a gas burner while the beans are cooking, put them in a closed paper bag until cool (which makes them easier to peel), remove the charred skin with my fingers (don’t use water; it’ll take away too much flavor), and cut them into thin strips. The sweet bean and vegetable stew is perfectly set off by best-quality, sharp, salty feta cheese from Greece.

1/2 pound dried tepary beans
3 cups diced onions, 1/2” dice (1 large onion)
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1” lengths (4-5 cups)
1 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then diagonally into 1/4” slices (4 cups)
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
2 red bell peppers, roasted, cut into strips and then in half
4-6 ounces best quality feta cheese, crumbled, for garnish

Spread out the tepary beans in a flat pan and inspect carefully, removing any pebbles or debris. Rinse well with cold water. Put the beans in a large pot with enough water to cover them by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes. Cover and turn off the heat. Let sit for at least one hour. (NOTE: Next time I cook tepary beans, I’ll try eliminating this step; I suspect tiny teparies don’t need pre-soaking or pre-cooking.)

Bring the tepary beans and their liquid back to the boil (do not discard the original water). Turn down the heat, and simmer for 1 – 2 hours, or until the beans are just tender and not at all mushy.

In a separate pan, sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 2 Tbsp. olive oil until the onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. When the tepary beans are done simmering, scrape the onions, garlic, and oil into the bean pot. Stir in the tomatoes and green beans. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the green beans are tender.

While the green beans are cooking, using the same pan in which the onions were cooked, sauté the zucchini, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil. Cook until the zucchini browns lightly and begins to soften. Turn off the heat and stir in the thyme.

When the green beans are tender, scrape the zucchini, thyme, and their oil into the bean pot. Stir in the roasted red pepper pieces. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with crumbled feta.
This is an entry for
My Legume Love Affair – 9th Helping (MLLA9), created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook, which I hosted in March 2009. My Legume Love Affair - 10th Helping for April 2009 is being hosted by Courtney of Coco Cooks.