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So, a white-themed Christmas it was, although to be honest this was due to chance rather than design, in the sense that the dishes I chose for Christmas happened to be white, rather than being the result of a conscious decision to find colour-challenged recipes. That would have been much too much like hard work.
And in any case, the all-white theme came a cropper, since the original starter of baccalà cream tarts got scuppered some time on Christmas Eve, as I was scurrying around between market, fishmonger, cash machine, deli, pastry shop, cash machine, baker’s, wine merchant and cash machine. At a certain point, I just thought to myself “can I really be bothered to buy some salt cod, clean and fillet it, cook it, pore over it picking out all the tiny bones, and then turn it into a cream, mashing it as I add olive oil in a slow drizzle?”. Unsurprisingly, the resounding answer was “No, you must be bloody joking”.
Thus it was that the original starter was abandoned to be replaced by other, simpler tartlets – some with salmon and cream cheese, others with goat’s cheese and smoked tuna marinated in tangerine juice. And when I say “simpler”, I really do mean simpler, since I press-ganged the kids into doing them for me.
The pasta was more or less copied from something I ate earlier in the month in a restaurant in Castelbuono, and is “bianco” in the sense that it doesn’t include tomato, which is the default option here. In this case, I think tomatoes distract from the subtle pork and mushroom combination, adding an unwelcome note of acidity. Anyway, for my version of the recipe, see below.
This was followed by another dish vaguely inspired by something I ate at the same restaurant, namely pork loin with a black olive crust, and although tasty and perfectly cooked, the crust in question didn’t really cut the mustard, seeing that it fell off and remained moist rather than becoming crispy. Evidently, I’m going to have to tweak the recipe a bit before I can share it with you.
Both the pasta and the main course were based on good old Sicilian black pigs, the richly flavoured suino nero. The breeders swear blind that the way they are bred and reared, according to a strict diet, means that their fat actually lowers your cholesterol rather than increases it. Sounds too good to be true, but I really, really want to believe them.
This little lot was rounded off with decadence in a glass, a pandoro trifle with limoncello-infused mascarpone and ricotta cream, for which the recipe will follow in a later post.
- 600g pasta of choice (I used pappardelle, which is a classic with ragù, albeit more Tuscan than Sicilian)
- 500g coarsely minced pork (the better the pork, the better the result, obviously)
- 500g mushrooms (preferably porcini or mixed mushrooms with porcini in the mix. You need something with character), chopped into cherry-size pieces.
- 100g lardo, diced small (if you can’t find any, use guanciale or, at a push, dry-cured unsmoked streaky bacon)
- 1 onion, diced small
- 2 carrots, diced small
- 1 stick of celery, diced small
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cloves (the spice, not garlic)
- The chopped leaves from a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme
- 100ml dry white wine
- 200ml light stock
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Gently fry the lardo in a large non-stick frying pan for ten minutes. You won’t need any oil, since the lardo is basically pure fat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, bay, cloves and herbs, and continue cooking over a low heat for a further ten minutes.
- Add the pork and turn the heat up to brown it, cooking for a further ten minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Transfer to a non-stick saucepan and add the stock.
- Turn the heat down to a trembling simmer, cover and cook for one and a half hours.
- Add the mushrooms and cook for a further hour, stirring occasionally and adding more stock or wine if it dries out (but it shouldn’t). Season to taste and take off the heat.
- When the ragù is almost ready, put a big pot of salted water on to boil, and cook your pasta. Drain and mix with the ragù. Serve with grated parmesan, pecorino or, for a truly Sicilian experience (and if you can find it, of course), some salted ricotta, either grated or shaved. This has the consistency of Wensleydale, and is salty, yet creamy. It’s also the perfect accompaniment to pasta alla norma; but you’ll have to wait for summer for that one…