Thursday, May 19, 2016

Roast Pork and Fennel Sandwich with Romesco Sauce

This is quite possibly the best sandwich I've ever made. It's based on one they serve at The Grove, one of my favorite restaurants in Albuquerque, but I've always wished their version had more romesco and more fennel. Finally, it's perfect (according to me).

When we first moved into our new place in Seattle, I was thrilled to discover there's a fantastic bakery and a fantastic butcher shop right across the street from the awesome yoga place in Columbia City! The first time I walked into Bob's Quality Meats, I saw hanger steak in the case on my left, duck fat and pork neck bones in the freezer on my right, and I knew I was in heaven. They source locally, they have an amazing selection, and they're so friendly... this is the butcher shop of my dreams.

Dave picked up a pork loin at Bob's this week, and cooked it according to the instructions in The Joy of Cooking. It turned out beautifully, nicely browned on the outside and juicy on the inside. I sliced up some gorgeous huge fennel bulbs they had on sale at PCC, and threw them on the pan with the roast to get all soft and caramelized.

Romesco sauce is one of the world's great condiments - spicy, tangy, nutty, and packed with umami. The basic recipe is roasted red peppers (I used jarred ones since they're not in season yet) pureed with almonds, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and maybe a little chile powder like hot paprika. I threw in some bread crumbs and sundried tomatoes for extra flavor. We've been enjoying the fresh green garlic and smoky goat horn chile peppers from Alvarez Organic Produce in everything this month.

Pile all that up between two slices of Columbia City Bakery's incredibly light and pillowy potato bread, and you have a feast!

3 lbs pork loin
Rosemary (optional)
2 large fennel bulbs
Olive oil for the pan
1/2 cup almonds (preferably sliced or slivered)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
3 sundried tomatoes, snipped into small strips
Half a 12-oz jar roasted red peppers
2 Tbs bread crumbs
1/2 tsp hot paprika + 1/4 tsp cayenne, or 1/2 a goat horn or chipotle chile2 Tbs sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Heat the oven to 450F. Rub the pork loin all over with salt, pepper, chopped rosemary, and a little olive oil. Place it on a rack over a large sheet pan. Trim the bottoms and stems off the fennel bulbs and slice vertically, 1/2 inch thick. Rub the fennel all over with oil and place it flat on the pan around the meat.

Toast the almonds on a sheet pan for 5-10 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don't burn - it can happen really fast!

Roast the pork and fennel for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 250F. Turn the fennel over, and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast reads 155F. It should take about another 45-80 minutes, depending on the diameter of the pork loin. If the fennel is not browned on both sides, turn the oven back up to 450F and roast it a little longer to caramelize.

Pulse the almonds in a food processor until they are chopped pretty small. Add the garlic and sundried tomatoes, pulse until they are chopped up pretty small. Add the red peppers, bread crumbs, chile, vinegar, and olive oil. Puree until smooth.

Remove the roast and and vegetables from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes, then slice the pork about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the bread slices with romesco sauce and sandwich a big fennel slice and a few pork slices between them. Voila!

The sandwiches are also great made with cold leftovers, and the romesco sauce makes a great dip for crunchy spring vegetables.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Japanese Knotweed Jam

So, as I started poking around in my new garden, planting a few lettuces, herbs, and such, I noticed this rather distinctive plant coming up around the edges of the concrete retaining walls.

Because it was growing out of cracks, rather than in an obviously planted spot, because of its somehow kinda scary-looking red speckled stem, and because it grew SO FAST, I thought... this looks dangerous. So I posted this picture on Facebook, and sure enough my friend Meghan confirmed, it is the dreaded Japanese Knotweed!

Whoa. I'd heard of it, and its reputation is legend. I'd just never seen it in person before. Incredibly invasive, almost impossible to get rid of, and listed as a noxious weed in at least eight states, including Washington. I guess I had thought it was also known as kudzu, but it's actually not the same thing. Definitely a serious problem, but guess what? It's also edible! It tastes just like rhubarb.

So I made jam and ate it with yogurt! Delicious. Next time I might even try it with some ginger, like the fantastic ginger-rhubarb jam my aunt Sandy sent me a few years ago.

6 cups chopped Japanese Knotweed stems
3 cups sugar (or more, to taste)

Choose stems no more than about 1 inch in diameter, and chop them into pieces about 1 inch long. Once they get this big, they can be really woody, so check them as you go by tasting some of the bigger pieces. If you can't chew them, throw them away until you get up to a more tender part of the stem. You don't want those tough fibers in your jam.

Cook knotweed and sugar in a saucepan on medium heat until it thickens. Stir more frequently as it gets thicker, so it doesn't burn. It's going to turn out a dark green color, like many of the less-red varieties of rhubarb do. If that doesn't appeal, you can always add red food coloring to pretty it up. Chill and serve on toast, with yogurt, or use it in this fantastic Rhubarb Trifle!