Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shells stuffed with free range bacon bits, spinach and mozzarella

Saturday Market
I served these on Saturday at the market to show-case my bacon and they received rave reviews, although many, including me, thought that they were unnecessarily elaborate for that purpose. When I took this up with the domestic goddess, ( she insists that I refer to her as such in this piece) and CEO of our family home, who made them for me, she pointed out that I am so “snoep” with my “free off- cuts” that she needed to stretch them as far as possible. What this recipe does show, as she so astutely observed, is that the flavour and texture of my bacon is so intense that one needs very much less of it to have the same impact when combining this with other strong flavours. 
I promised to post the recipe so here it is folks.
1 packet giant pasta shells
A little splash of local olive oil (not that imported Italian junk)
Couple cloves chopped garlic
A good handful of free range bacon bits
4- 5 canned Italian tomatoes
15ml fresh bread crumbs
60ml cream or yogurt
2 cups ricotta or mozzarella cheese
Two handfuls of chopped well drained cooked spinach
3 leaves of fresh basil
A small handful of grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook pasta shells until al dente.  Rinse and set aside.
Heat oil in a pan and sauté garlic and bacon until crisp.
Squeeze tomatoes with your hands over sink and add pulp to pan.
Stir in bread crumbs and then add cream/yogurt.
Stir well over the heat until mixture has lost most of the moisture and is quite dry.
Place all the cheese in a bowl with bacon/garlic and spinach and mix well.
Season with salt and pepper to taste – bear in mind that the bacon is fairly savoury already.
Stuff shells with filling and then place together in an oiled, shallow ovenproof dish.
5 minutes before you want to eat bake at 180ºC until cheese is melted and golden.
Sprinkle with basil and serve.

I’m out to cure the world

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Artisanal Charcuterie

I really felt validated when I read in last Friday’s Business Day that the journalist who interviewed master meat curer Roberto sa Gimenez came away believing that “charturerie is among the noblest professions” - I’ve been saying this to anyone who’d listen, for at least six months.
Not that I’m comparing myself to this famous salumiere who’s been in the game for over  20 years and is known throughout the country for his Jamon Serrano and other splendidly cured pork goodies. Personally I can’t think of many things I’d rather do than spend some time with him and his magnificent year old fat covered hams. Perhaps he’d even let me sniff a few of his salami varieties with their alluring mould rind and that “indescribable sweet-salt, pungent foot thing going on.”
As the article says these are not average supermarket products, “there’s a complexity and intensity that cannot be reproduced by any tricks that food technology might have up its sleeve.” Let’s face it there’s no doubt that cured meats benefits enormously from the care and attention that can only be achieved by personal small-batch production.
It’s the same with my bacon, and because it’s free range pork which I dry cure and oak smoke I cannot produce it at the same price as commercial brine cured bacon, but then as we all know, you get  you pay for. 
Check out:  http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=134126

I’m out to cure the world.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Humanely raised piggies

I find some people looking at me as if I’m smoking something (which I am) when I tell them I’m making free- range bacon. They say it’s a contradiction in terms. I understand that free- range conjures up visions of herds of energetic and agile Springbok and Nguni streaking across the wide open veld, which is not exactly the image we have of porkers. With sayings like “you eat like a pig, this is a pigsty and I’m as happy as a pig in sh1t,” it’s easy to see why people don’t consider free- range to be uppermost on a pig’s must have list.  
But seriously guys, pig farming is big business all over the world and the driving force behind these huge commercial factory farms is money and nothing else. You know, good old free enterprise - supply and demand. As far as they’re concerned the faster they can produce this commodity and the less it costs to do so, the greater the profit, finished and klaar.
For the best results they will have intense concentration of twenty odd pigs cooped up in tiny indoor pens. To minimise the impact caused when fights breaking out they are often castrated, de-tailed and de-teethed. The breeding sows are, for most of their adult lives, kept in gestation crates which are only about ½ m x 2 m in size and often, for fear of them squashing their babies, they’re prevented from ever actually lying down properly.
All these overcrowded and confined conditions, the use of antibiotics and pesticides are essential to prevent the spread of disease and pestilence. Adlib feeding with added hormones stimulate growth and get the animals ready in double quick time.
As soon as they reach optimum weight they’re trucked off en mass to the abattoirs. Here they are herded in to pens with strange pigs and fights beak out resulting in torn ears and gashes all over their bodies. This is extremely stressful and painful for the animals and the trauma toughens their meat.  
So when I say free range I’m talking about pigs that live their lives roaming around outside in large shady camps where they are can forage for leaves, roots and grass at their leisure and interact with other pig if and when they please.
The sows are comfortably housed when they farrow down and at around 5 weeks the piglets are removed to weaning pens and the sows go back in to the camps. The piglets also go into camps where they’re left to live out their lives for the next five or six months which is how long it takes for them to reach optimum weight in their own time. If additional feeding is necessary this comprises only of natural fodder like high protein cereal, whey and fruit and no stimulants or growth hormones what so ever are added.
They’re driven to the abattoirs by the farmer and to ensure minimum stress they remain in separate pens with only other pigs from their camp, which means they’re calm and relaxed because they know each other.  Apart from this being a far more humane existence it also goes a long way to ensuring that their meat is not stressed before they’re slaughtered.
That it come at a price is true. But the price is to our pockets, which I think you’ll agree is worth it.
I’m out to cure the world.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No creaming off the top

One of my favourite pastas is the classic Roman Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Many people like to add cream and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, after all ‘fat is flavour,’ but I don’t and I think it’s really lekker without it. I’ve been using this recipe since I started making my own bacon.  What’s so great is that it works just as well with the off cuts  - I use  these ‘cheaper bits’ since I’ve realized that I can’t afford to  eat the profit.  Of course you can chop up the rashers, If I had to choose I’d use back as it’s the meatiest, but if you’d like me to supply you with some off cuts, I’d be happy to. 

Serves 4-6
A splash of olive oil
A knob of butter
2 shallots, chopped fine or a red onion if you don’t have any
200 g bacon chopped coarsely
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup homemade chicken stock (my recipe to come)
4 large free range egg yolks (I’ll give you a cool alternative to making meringue with the whites)
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Parmesan works well too)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 packet Fettuccine (I prefer it to spaghetti)
Place a large pot of water over a high heat and bring to the boil for the pasta.
In the meantime heat the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic and bacon pieces and cook until the shallots are translucent and the bacon is lightly browned, - 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the wine, bring to the boil and cook until reduced by half, 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat while you cook the pasta. When the water is boiling rapidly add a pinch of salt and then the fettuccine. Cook uncovered over high heat until al dente.
Drain and add the pasta to the sauté pan and place it back over medium-high heat.
Add the egg yolks, cheese and an ample grindings of black pepper and heat through gently until the pasta is well coated and creamy.
Transfer to individual pasta dishes and serve with extra cheese on top. Lastly (optional) add a splash or good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon..
Now eat.
I’m out to cure the world.

Liquid bacon

There’s been a lot in the press lately about supermarkets duping customers by selling bacon that’s pumped up with huge quantities of water, which is not reflected in the ingredients on the packaging. This means that shoppers are effectively paying for water which boils away during cooking and there can be a weight loss of anything up to 45%. 
Truth is the practice of injecting rashers with liquid brine has been used in South Africa for decades, so it’s nothing new and we’re not the only ones doing it.  Recent tests in the UK showed that bacon sold in some of their leading supermarkets had up to 13% water added (legally they only have to declare this if it exceeds 10%, which is already quite a lot of water). Thing is I’ve been told on good authority, that the figure in this country is a whole lot higher.  
The producers of commercial bacon claim that adding liquid is a necessary part of the process but I can assure you that it’s not; it’s just a lucrative ploy which also happens to speed up the process. And don’t let them fool you that they do it to improve succulence because,  in fact, all  that it does do is wash out flavour and while you’re frying the slices they spit fat, take ages to brown if at all, and shrivel to a fraction of their original size.
I’m out to cure the world.