An Autumn Stew for Isabella
While the recipe evolved fairly spontaneously, my vision was clearly influenced by cooking I have experienced, or more often read about, from central Europe, particularly Czech cuisine. The pork chunks cooked with fruit take on a delightful and almost indefinable flavor. The fruit-enriched sauce is intense and serves well on mild-flavored accompaniments, like noodles, potatoes, or rice, or like dumplings in central Europe.
Here’s the recipe (slightly modified after retesting on guinea-pig friends in Atlanta) for what I developed on the weekend of Isabella’s baptism. She of course was too young to eat any, but some day I hope she likes it. Right now she still delights in mashed avocado and sweet potato.
Pork with Apples and Plums Tim-- dedicated to Isabella Dondero Westrich
(serves 6 with tasty leftovers)
1 pork “butt” roast or shoulder, 5-7 pounds, including bones
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions
2 large cloves garlic
2 large apples
4 medium black plums or 5 “prune plums”
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup red wine
Salt to taste
Trim any skin and excess fat off the pork. (If there is skin, trim the fat off it and simmer the skin in the stew for extra flavor.) Cut the meat into 1-1/2 inch chunks. Cut the bones apart at the joints. In a large pot (stainless steel or enamel preferred) heat the olive oil then add part of the pork for a layer one piece deep. Fry over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the color of the meat has changed on the surface and there is a little golden color on some pieces. Remove the meat to a bowl and similarly fry the remainder, in several batches if necessary. While the meat is cooking, peel the onions. Either cut them in chunks and chop them in a food processor by pulsing until the pieces are small, but not puréed, or dice them by hand. When the pork has changed color, add all of it back to the pot and stir in the onion (do not wash processor) and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the reserved pork skin and the bones to the pot. Put the garlic, apple, peeled, cored and chunked, plus the plums, unpeeled but washed and pitted, to the processor and chop finely until nearly puréed (or mince the garlic and chop the apple and plums finely with a chef’s knife). Stir the mixture into the pork. Add the bay leaves and other herbs and spices plus the wine (do not add salt yet). When the mixture boils, lower the heat to medium-low, cover and continue cooking with occasional stirring, adding a little water to keep the sauce juicy, but slightly below the level of the meat. After half an hour begin adding salt, starting with 2 teaspoons. Simmer the stew until the pork becomes tender, tasting the sauce from time to time and adding salt if necessary.
Serve with (optionally) steamed potatoes, buttered egg noodles, or lightly salted and buttered rice. Accompany with warm crusty bread and a green salad. A fruity, not too heavy red wine, like a merlot or an Italian Tempranillo, or a dry fruity white wine such as an Alsatian Riesling would go well with this.