A friend that I haven't seen in almost a decade contacted me earlier in the week and said she'd like to visit for a few days on her way to Arizona. She's been driving around the country for several months, having left California in order to help take care of a very ill friend. She's been visiting friends and points of interest along the way and just came from New Orleans, which we both agree is a stupendously magical place for so many reasons. She arrived, road-weary and tired, Friday evening.
There is (finally) an appropriate November chill in the air. And it is time for the warmth and comfort of a cheery fire. We had our first fire of the season in our fireplace last night and it was lovely. My husband built the fire after we migrated in from outdoors, having enjoyed some celebratory bubbly and a few appetizers. As my friend and I sat, sipping, nibbling and reconnecting we were startled by heavy clattering and footsteps above our heads. I stuck my head outside to see our aluminum extension ladder propped up against the side of the house and my husband on the roof with a pole trimmer, sawing off tree limbs.
I had called the county sheriff's office earlier that day to make sure that, in the midst of the burn ban, we could still have a indoor fire. But my husband was taking no chances. Even though the Labor Day wildfires were extinguished, the emotional pain and trauma of the destruction was not. My husband trimmed back every limb that was even remotely close to the chimney so that any embers managing to escape from the flue and out from under the chimney cap would have no easy time of it. I was grateful that he was being so conscientious. Lord knows I wouldn't have been the one climbing up on that roof!
Earlier that morning, I had started to slow-roast a pork roast and had come home mid-afternoon to the aroma of fennel, lemon and garlic. I had quite a few fennel stalks left over from last weekend's event and will often use them in the bottom of a roasting pan as a sort of roasting rack. So I found a recipe for pork rubbed with fennel, garlic and red chile and adapted it to use the fennel stalks. Of course, you can make this recipe without the fennel "roasting rack" and it will be just as good, or if you have whole fennel bulbs with stalks, slice the bulbs thinly and roast them separately in a shallow pan with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little Parmesan cheese.
The secret to a perfect pork roast is in the slow roasting process, which produces a very moist, succulent slice of meat on your plate with a lovely pan sauce. As an accompaniment, I also roasted parsnips, carrots, rutabaga and potatoes with smoked paprika and some of my beloved duck fat in a separate pan. And of course, what meal would be complete without my favorite: roasted kale done simply with olive oil, salt pepper and a little garlic.
After seeking advice from one of my wine guys, I looked for a bright, acidic red that was fermented and aged in stainless steel. I found Tormaresca Neprica 2009 (Italy), a blend of three grapes: Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting notes indicated that it had a balanced acidity with notes of dark chocolate, fruit and hints of licorice. It ended up being a perfect choice with the fennel-braised pork roast and the acidity balanced the richness of the pork beautifully. This wine is about $10 a bottle, so it's well within reach for a Friday night dinner.
For the pork, I adapted a recipe by James Martin, host of Saturday Kitchen on the BBC network. The original recipe is here, but I thought that more garlic, less fennel seed and no finishing pesto would work well. It did. Here the recipe I developed:
Slow-Roasted Pork with Garlic, Fennel and Chiles
several fennel stalks, with fronds (optional)
3 to 5 lb. bone-in Boston butt pork roast
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. fennel seed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tsp. crushed dried red chiles
olive oil, to taste
5 lemons, juiced
3 Tbs. olive oil
1. Wash fennel stalks and trim away discolored edges, if using. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
3. Score pork roast on all sides with a sharp knife, about 1/4 inch or more deep. Place in a large roasting pan.
4. With a mortar and pestle, make a paste of the garlic, fennel, salt, pepper and chile flakes. Add enough olive oil to make ingredients adhere to each other.
5. Rub the pork roast all over the with garlic and fennel paste.
6. Roast the pork for 30 minutes, until the surface begins to crisp and brown, turning roast to brown all sides.
7. Remove pork from oven and place optional fennel stalks under pork roast to make a roasting rack.
8. Pour half of the lemon juice over the pork and drizzle with 2 Tbs. olive oil.
9. Turn down oven to 225 degrees and tent the roast loosely with foil.
10. Roast the pork overnight, or all day long, 8 to 24 hours, basting occasionally with the remaining lemon juice and olive oil.
11. The roast is ready when the meat falls away from the bone. Slice thinly, deglaze the pan with additional lemon juice, if desired, and serve with the roast and any side dishes you might want. Serves 6.
May your tastebuds dance!