Thursday, 24 September 2015

Pork belly with harlequin squash, burnt apple puree, chard and nduja

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to a ‘Meet The Producer’ evening hosted by wonderful champions of British charcuterie, Cannon and Cannon, and their producer for the night, Moons Green. Having bought and enjoyed their products a few times before, it was great to learn more about what went into the production side of things, and interesting to hear the (often highly amusing) stories gained along the way. Of course, it was also brilliant to taste a wide range of cured meats, from beer sticks to UK coppa, cured ‘buttock’ and nduja. And I was very happy to be kindly given a piece of the latter to play about with back in the kitchen. 

I’m a real lover of foreign charcuterie, and any trip back from Europe sees me cramming my suitcase full of regional specialities to devour once back at home. But it was hugely enlightening to see the sheer range and quality of cured meats being produced in this country. In the UK we rear some amazing quality livestock, and it is crazy that we aren’t renowned for preserving it. Cannon and Cannon are rightly hugely enthusiastic about their products, and hopefully soon we will see a well-deserved charcuterie renaissance, one to rival the current resurgence with cheese.
Nduja is fantastic, and something that has recently achieved trend status in London and beyond. And rightly so; it is such a versatile ingredient. It can hold its own as a dominant flavour when used in something like a sauce with tomatoes, or balanced and tempered to add depth to other dishes. I recently saw a Gizzi Erskine recipe where she crumbled it into a vongole-style spaghetti and it looked fabulous.
Now that we’re full-swing into autumn, I thought that the fiery heat of the nduja would contrast brilliantly with the sweet fruit and vegetables that are now coming through. It also works a treat with greens and brassicas, in this case, some of the lovely chard that seems to be springing up out of the ground everywhere at present. At the centre of the dish is a hunk of pork belly, brittle and crunchy on top and succulent underneath. I wanted to showcase the quality of British pork, and here it is evident both cured and fresh. Ignore the pale, anaemic slabs you see lining supermarket aisles; independent butchers and suppliers is where the real quality (and flavour!) is at.
Serves 4
For the pork belly:
1 x 1.5kg piece of on the bone pork belly, ribs removed and saved for stock 
1 tbsp fennel seeds 
1 tbsp dried oregano 
1 lemon, zest only 
10 sprigs of thyme 
1 pinch of dried chilli flakes 
1 carrot 
2 shallots 
3 cloves of garlic
For the sauce:
The ribs and trim from the pork belly, excess fat removed 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
2 shallots, finely sliced 
1 carrot, finely chopped 
2 garlic cloves, sliced 
5 sprigs of thyme 
1 bay leaf 
1 large glass of white wine 
750ml chicken stock 
1 large knob of butter
For the burnt apple puree:
4 braeburn apples 
2 tbsp caster sugar 
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the roasted squash:
1 large or 2 medium harlequin squash, peeled and seeded 
1 garlic clove, grated 
1 tbsp dried oregano 
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika 
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1 lemon, zest only
For the chard:
1 inch-thick slice of spicy nduja 
1 large bunch of chard, tough stalks removed. Leaves roughly sliced. 
1 lemon, juice only

Preheat the oven to 240⁰C. Put the apples for the puree into an oven dish and roast for about an hour, until dark in colour all over and very soft. Transfer to a food processor with the caster sugar and blend until smooth. With the engine still running, drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified. Pass through a fine sieve if necessary, then spoon into a squeezy bottle. 

While the apples are cooking make the sauce. Bring a large frying pan or skillet to a high heat. Season the ribs and trimmings from the pork belly and brown in a little olive oil until all sides are well caramelised. Tip in the shallots, carrot, garlic and herbs and continue to fry for a couple of minutes. Pour in the wine and reduce by two-thirds, then top up with the stock. Bring back to the boil, then gently reduce until only a thick, concentrated sauce remains. Pour through a fine sieve into a small saucepan, discarding the bones and vegetables. Whisk the butter into the sauce, then cover and set aside.
Lower the oven temperature to 130⁰C. Put the fennel seeds, lemon zest, dried oregano, chilli flakes and half of the thyme for the pork belly into a pestle and mortar with a generous amount of salt and pepper and crush well. Slice the root vegetables in half lengthways and scatter onto the bottom of a roasting dish, along with the garlic and remaining half of the thyme. Use a sharp knife to carefully score the skin of the pork, then position the meat on top of the vegetables. Rub the spice mix into the skin of the pork, making sure that it gets right into the grooves. Roast in the oven for 3-4 hours, until very tender. Raise the oven temperature to 240⁰C, and continue to cook the meat for 10-15 minutes, until the crackling has bubbled and crisped. Remove from the oven to somewhere warm, and allow to rest before carving. 

Lower the oven temperature back down to 200⁰C. Slice the squash into thick wedges and scatter into a roasting dish. Sprinkle over the spices and spoon in a good glug of olive oil. Toss well to combine, then roast for 30-40 minutes, until tender in the middle and caramelised on the outside. Set aside 4 pieces of roasted squash, and transfer the rest into a food processor. Blitz well into a smooth puree, adding the butter and a good sprinkle of seasoning.
Bring a frying pan to a medium heat. Pour in 1 tbsp of oil, then add the nduja. Fry for a couple of minutes, until it starts to release its oil, using a spoon to break it up into small pieces. Add the chard leaves and the lemon juice, and combine well with the nduja. Cook for another minute or so, until the chard leaves have just wilted. 

Reheat the sauce and roasted squash if necessary.
To serve, postion a piece of pork belly onto each plate. Squeeze on a good blob of apple puree, add a piece of roasted squash and spoon on a dollop of squash puree. Add some of the chard and nduja, before finishing with a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce.

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