Firenze Files: Power of Pork

Talk about fancy cooking equipment all you want, but I just made one of the best meals of my life in a cheap metal pot from IKEA, in a cramped rented kitchen, with limited hand-me-down utensils, on a persnickety old gas stove, on the fourth floor of an apartment building in a foreign country.  TV shows and magazines and high-end cooking stores will try to sell you the newest, most expensive array of cookware or the most advanced gadget that will improve and shorten your cooking.  To those claims I say that all of that equipment is superfluous and distracts your from actually interacting with the ingredients and being involved in the process and that there’s something lovely, nostalgic, and loving about spending a little extra time preparing a meal by hand in a more traditional way.  Additionally, my time in a restaurant kitchen has taught me that chef’s eschew most of those fancy gadgets anyway, using simple metal spoons where the well-equipped home cook would think that tongs, a ladle, or a spatula would all be necessary.  Today I used only one pot, a tiny knife, one cutting board, and a spoon to make the best braised pork belly I’ve made to date.  The humble cooking process reminded me of a tradition in Italian cooking that I’ve learned about, called “cucina povera.”  It means “poor kitchen,” and it’s a style of cooking that features very few and simple ingredients to create something authentic, true, and nourishing.  It’s food that’s proud of peasant origins, that was made by simple people without access to rare or expensive foods, but that despite its modesty, is rich, flavorful, and meaningful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI invoked the historic power of food when I shared the first piece of the pork belly with my roommate who is a fellow Paleo enthusiast and who is similarly having trouble limiting her samplings of all the wonderful pastries and flavors of gelato that Florence has to offer.  It was nice to share a warm, home-cooked, Paleo friendly slab of meat with a fellow cavewomen, and I was ecstatic to be able to provide her first taste of pork belly.  It was an instant success.  I just wrote to my mom back home about the whole dinner and preparation, and I told her that someday I will make a great wife and mother because what other American student come to Florence and enjoys rendering pork fat, making home-made bone broth, and braising pork belly just for fun?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’re interested in how I made this dish, here’s a description of the preparation:

I bought pancetta fresca at the mercato central here, which is fresh pork belly even with the skin on.  I had to cut the skin off an almost 3 pound slice of pork belly with a tiny kitchen aid knife, but then I threw the skin in a pan to render the fat because I couldn’t bear to waste all the beautiful, soft fat that still clung to it.  Then I seared neat slices of my pork belly in that fat and periodically drained and collected the extra fat that continued to render out of the meat.  Once they were golden, I let the slices rest while I sautéed onions, carrots, garlic, and a tiny bit of celery (I’m not a big fan) in the pork fat.  I stirred in about a tablespoon of mustard at the end because I think the flavor goes well with pork and because it helps to thicken the sauce.  Once the veggies were tender, I poured a half bottle of white wine (Vernaccia di San Gimignano because I’m in Italy!) and turned up the heat to let it reduce.  After boiling for about 3 minutes, I added about a similar amount of chicken/beef stock (I could only find a mixed one at the Italian supermarcato and I was selfish and didn’t want to use my homemade chicken stock that I had made to feed my cold).  Once the whole mixture was boiling, I threw in a bunch of rosemary sprigs and returned the sliced of pork belly to the pot.  Luckily, they all fit nicely and were nicely submerged, with only the top centimeter of fat exposed.  I popped on a lid, and let it simmer for 3 hours.  Once the belly was so tender that my spoon accidentally slid right through it, I removed the slices from the pot and turned up the heat to let the braising liquid reduce.  Meanwhile I used a sauté pan to brown the edges of the piece I was going to enjoy for dinner (the rest would be luxury leftovers for during the week).  Then all that’s left is to serve and enjoy.

5 Responses to “Firenze Files: Power of Pork”
  1. Mom says:

    “luxury leftovers”, what a great description! I can’t wait to cook with you in Italy.

  2. Nana and Pop-Pop says:

    With the description of your dish preparation and pictures, I can ALMOST taste this dish. Amazing!

  3. this makes me ashamed that the only food we made in our apartment was bacon and eggs 🙂

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