Braised Pork Shoulder (Ragu) with Fennel and Mushrooms

Watch me make this on my YouTube Channel!

Yield: 6 servings

2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1½ inch cubes

1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced medium

3 celery stalks, diced medium

4 large carrots, peeled and diced medium

1 medium fennel bulb, end trimmed and diced medium

1 pound baby bella mushrooms, quartered

2 tablespoons tomato paste (preferably double concentrate)

10 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly

1/8 teaspoon crushed red (chili) flakes

1 tablespoon toasted whole fennel seed

1 cup red wine (red zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon)

2 cups chicken stock

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 cup water

2 dried bay leaves

7 sprigs fresh thyme

3 (4-inch) sprigs fresh rosemary

3 (4-inch) sprigs fresh oregano

4 teaspoons soy sauce

4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Ragu Base: pasta, polenta, gnocchi (your choice!)

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, not pre grated

Season the pork (cubes) all over with the salt and pepper.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle-lower position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Open a few windows and/or turn on the oven hood/fan; it might get a little smoky!

Heat a heavy 5.5 quart Dutch oven over medium-high until hot, then add 1 tablespoon oil. It will most likely start to smoke. Evenly distribute the pork and brown on all sides, about 1 minute per side. (Work in batches if need be to not overcrowd the pan) Transfer the pork to a medium bowl. (You should have about 2 tablespoons of oil left in the Dutch oven. If not, add some extra-virgin oil to make up the difference.)

Add the onion, celery, carrots, fennel and mushrooms. Stir, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent.

Add the tomato paste, garlic, chili flakes and toasted fennel seed. Stir. Cook uncovered for approximately 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until liquid has thickened.

Add the wine and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, loosening up any brown bits stuck to the sides and bottom of the pan. Cook for 5 minutes more; it will begin to thicken and you will see large bubbles.

Stir in the stock, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, oregano, soy sauce, Worcestershire, sugar and pork with any of its juices left in the bowl.

Bring the Dutch oven to a simmer throughout (not just the sides), cover partially (opening the lid about an 1-inch) and transfer to the oven. Cook for 90 minutes, stirring once after 45 minutes, until the pork is tender and can be easily shredded with a fork.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes, covered (lid on fully). Remove the pork and transfer to a large bowl. Shred the pork with two forks. Discard the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, rosemary and oregano. Return the pork to the Dutch oven. Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle pork ragu over pasta, polenta or gnocchi. Top with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Vegetarian Red Beans and Dirty Brown Rice

A twist on this classic Cajun Louisiana dish – made for all my vegetarian and vegan friends. Here’s to a happy, healthy and delicious New Year!

Dirty Veggie Red Beans and Rice

Vegetarian Red Beans and Dirty Brown Rice

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

 

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced small (2 cups)

3 medium celery stalks, diced small (1 cup)

1 large green bell pepper, diced small (1 cup)

8-ounces cremini mushrooms, diced medium (2 ½ cups)

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

5 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced (2 tablespoons)

1½ teaspoons ground Hungarian paprika

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon dried Greek oregano

¼ teaspoon celery salt

1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle powder

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup vegetable stock

2 ½ cups cooked long grain brown rice

 

In a large sauté pan, add the olive oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and let oil heat until hot and shimmering.

Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, mushrooms and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until vegetables have given off their liquid and are beginning to caramelize.

Add the garlic, paprika, black pepper, cumin, oregano, celery salt and chipotle powder. Stir and cook 2 minutes more.

Add the beans and vegetable stock and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, loosening up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, approximately 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and fold in the cooked brown rice until thoroughly mixed.

Season to taste with additional salt. Serve in 2 large bowls (big servings!) or 4 smaller bowls.

Roast Eggplant Sandwich with Vegan Umami Paste

So, there’s this thing called Umami Paste. It’s typically a blend of different ingredients, like vinegar, anchovies, tomatoes, mushrooms, spices… and it’s used in cooking (add it to a soup, rub on meats, throw a little in with your eggs) to add a punch of flavor – an umami boost, if you will. (You can purchase it at speciality stores or on Amazon.) Given that most dishes for meat eaters have umami naturally – that very satiating savory flavor experienced most commonly when eating meat dishes – I thought to myself, wouldn’t this be a perfect sauce/paste to adjust (no anchovies here!) for vegans and vegetarians? Hence, my vegan umami paste – seriously good regardless of your meat eating preferences, and definitely a punch of umami to your food! Here, I add it to roast eggplant on grilled bread – KERPOW!

Roast Eggplant Sandwich with Vegan Umami Paste

Roast Eggplant Sandwich with Vegan Umami Paste

 

Vegan Umami Paste

Yield: 1 cup

2 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste

½ teaspoon soy sauce

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon unsulphured organic molasses

½ teaspoon granulated sugar

2 tablespoons porcini dust (.25 ounces dried porcini put through a spice grinder or you can rehydrate .25 ounces of dried porcinis, rough chop them and add to the blender with the rest of the ingredients)

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes

½ cup green olives, pitted

1 medium garlic clove, minced

4 sundried tomatoes (packed in oil)

 

Put all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Refrigerate in between uses.

 

Roast Eggplant Sandwich

1 large Italian eggplant, cut into ½-inch thick slices, widthwise

extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

½ teaspoon ground cumin

kosher salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Piece of baguette or ciabatta that has been seasoned and toasted in the oven with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and rubbed with a peeled garlic clove

Flat-leaf Italian parsley, for serving

 

Place an oven rack on the middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Drizzle olive oil (a generous amount) on each side of the eggplant slices and season with cumin, salt and pepper. Place on a parchment lined sheet tray.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and caramelized.

Spread vegan umami paste on bread. Top with eggplant, a drizzle of olive oil and some parsley leaves.