Sunday, November 27, 2011

Traditions to stand by

Tartine Porchetta
The only thing traditional about Thanksgiving around here this year was the mashed potatoes. You'll have to excuse me. This was the first year in which I was in charge of everything, and I just didn't feel wedded to tradition. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that while growing up, my grandmother did it all--a twenty-pound bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes, three pies, the works. I didn't start contributing to holiday dinners until a few years ago, when I was a vegetarian. And back then, I put some decidedly non-traditional fare on the table alongside the turkey and sweet potatoes (French lentils with ricotta dumplings, this cauliflower cake). So, I guess the precedent was already set.
I envisioned a meal that would be a fun challenge for me to prepare, that would raise a few eyebrows around the table, and that would leave everyone full and happy at the end of the night. So, Thanksgiving for four went something like this:
  • roasted vegetable soup: delicata squash and fennel roasted with shallots, garlic, sage and rosemary, puréed with chicken stock and a touch of cream
  • Momofuku Ssäm Bar's brussels sprouts (which you can find here with Talley)
  • Thomas Keller's mashed potatoes (found here)
  • herb-stuffed porchetta from Tartine Bread
  • blue cheese and honey ice cream, thanks to The Perfect Scoop and a shiny new ice-cream maker (Yay! Also, here is a variation on the ice cream--not quite what's in the book)
A bit of an eclectic menu, I know, and rather pungent too--but it was great. We all ate more than we should have. We groaned getting up from the table. I may not be wedded to tradition when it comes to what we eat, but eating well, maybe too well, on Thanksgiving--now that's a tradition I stand by.
Leftovers are another of those things that make Thanksgiving what it is. For me as a kid, that meant a few days' worth of hot turkey sandwiches smothered in gravy and some stuffing on the side. This year, though, it's porchetta galore.
Let me explain. When I found out that I'd be hosting Thanksgiving, I was pretty convinced at the outset that I didn't want to do a turkey. A quick flip through Tartine Bread settled it. We were going to make the Tartine porchetta! Here's what you need to know. Slow-roasted pork shoulder. Butterflied and stuffed with sourdough breadcrumbs and a veritable bouquet of aromatics. Rolled up and trussed. Roasted for a solid eight hours, basting in its own fat and juices until unbelievably tender and fragrant. Sliced and pan-seared right before serving. Brilliant. Unfussy. As the book says, "...a regal way to cook a pork shoulder."
We went to The Butcher & Larder Wednesday afternoon and came home with our prized shoulder, fresh off a hog just delivered that day. We trimmed and stuffed and rolled, then let it roast into the night. My kitchen has never smelled so good at four in the morning.
I'm convinced. Holiday feasts and porchetta were made for one another. Roast your porchetta the night before, ease yourself into sweet, pork-filled dreams, wake up and tuck your roast into the fridge to rest, and you won't have to worry about it for the rest of the day. The oven will be free for whatever else you've got up your sleeve. When the time comes, give yourself a few minutes for slicing and a quick pan-sear, then call everyone to the table. Dig into some seriously good pork.
And then there's my favourite part. Unless you've got a crowd of 8 or 10 over, there will be leftovers in abundance. Think about the sandwiches. I can assure you. This porchetta, cold, thinly sliced, will be exactly what you want when you're all cooked-out in the aftermath.
Porchetta cross-cut
Adapted, just a little, from Tartine Bread
Note: Wrapping. It's important to wrap your porchetta in foil well to keep in the juices and fat. I didn't do quite as good a job as I should have, so the roast had a few dry spots. Don't let it happen to you! Make ahead. I think you can get away with roasting the porchetta 24-36 hours in advance. It will keep splendidly in the refrigerator on the sheet pan you baked it on, once cooled. Because of the long cooking time and the required resting period in the refrigerator, it would be very difficult to do everything day-of. The folks at Tartine recommend roasting it overnight, and that's more or less what I did. Stuffing. All of those herbs do wonders for the pork shoulder, but I found the stuffing itself a little too herbaceous. I'd consider adding some sautéed shallot or maybe even some grated apple to the mix next time.

5 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1 teaspoon sea salt

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
12 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 cup fennel fronds, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
5 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
4 slices day-old rustic sourdough, each about 1-inch thick, torn into small chunks
3-5 tablespoons olive oil

Have your butcher butterfly the pork shoulder to an even thickness of about 1 inch. You should have a long sheet of meat roughly 9 by 14 inches. Lay the pork shoulder out flat on a cutting board. Season with 1 teaspoon salt.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees F.
To make the stuffing, in a food processor, combine the parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, fennel fronds, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, garlic, and salt, and pulse to chop. Add the bread and 3 tablespoons olive oil and pulse to combine. If the stuffing still looks a little dry still--the consistency should be almost spreadable and paste-like--add more olive oil and pulse again.
Spread the stuffing evenly over the surface of the meat. Beginning on one side, roll the meat up tight and secure with butcher's twine.
Place the roll on a sheet of aluminium foil. Fold the sides of the foil up and around both ends of the roast and then roll the roast to enclose it in foil. This helps retain the moisture and fat while the roast is cooking. Place the roast on a baking sheet and bake until the meat is very tender, 8 to 10 hours.
Leave the aluminium foil on the roast while it cools. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the roast to firm up and hold its shape.
Remove the roast from the foil and cut off the twine. Cut the roast crosswise into slices about 1-inch thick. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, and add as many slices of porchetta as will fit in the pan. Cook the slices until brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook until browned on the second side and heated through, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve.
Serves 8-10.


  1. That looks delicious. We (we, as in my parents and I) are still thinking about what to make for our early christmas dinner with the grandfather next weekend. I'm not sure I could convince my mother to have something roasting in the oven the whole night, though (She doesn't like the smell of food in the house - How can we be related?)
    The roasted vegetable soup sounds great, too, and so does the blue cheese and honey ice cream.
    Until now I only once made ice cream myself, it was really good, and I'd love to try more recipes.

  2. I just googled the roquefort-honey ice cream, and Lebovitz posted the recipe on his site, here:
    Did you make any changes to the original recipe? It seems not to be an overly sweet ice cream, which sounds great. The bramble sorbet I made this summer was too sweet.

  3. I'm thinking Thanksgiving should be reinvented - goodbye turkey hello pig. Pigs deserve a holiday, don't you think? I guess some people have ham for Easter, but it's just not the same as a stuffed and roasted porchetta. I have been eyeing that recipe in Tartine Bread for a while now, but I'm way too intimated by the butchers (and the prices here in Zurich) to make it. Next time a festive occasion comes our way I'm going to bite the bullet and make this happen. So impressed! Also glad everyone liked the sprouts!

  4. Lena, thanks for the link. I've updated the main post. I followed the ice cream recipe as printed in the book, which is a little bit different from what DL posted on his blog. The original calls for 6-8 tablespoons of honey--I added about 7. You're right--it isn't overly sweet, but it tastes unmistakably of blue cheese. I don't think you could win over anyone with this ice cream unless he or she was a blue cheese fan to begin with. I liked the ice cream a lot, but I liked it best with extra honey drizzled over top just before serving.
    This was my first time making ice cream at home. My boyfriend and I made our second ever batch tonight, also from DL's book--pear caramel. It was fun to make and really good but also maybe a little too heavy on the cream. We'll have to keep trying.
    I hope to hear about whatever it is you decide to make for your early Christmas dinner. What do people traditionally make in Switzerland for Christmas dinner anyway?
    By the way, by "bramble" do you mean blackberries, raspberries, or some other berry from the same family?

    Talley, we should definitely make this right. Pigs do deserve their own holiday. This was my first time ever at the butcher, in part because I have only very recently returned to eating meat, in part because I don't have a car (and everything is far away from everything else in Chicago). Anyway, it was a little intimidating, but the people were very nice. I hope you manage in Zurich! It'll be worth it! Also, we made the sprouts again tonight. We invited some friends over to help us finish off the porchetta. One of them pronounced that the brussels sprouts the best he'd ever had. You definitely found a winner.

  5. Wow, what an impressive menu Katie! Really inspiring... I'm thinking next year I'm going to ditch the turkey. Or maybe for Christmas? Anyway, I really want to try out my hand with porchetta now. And how did the blue cheese and honey ice cream come out? I must say even though it sounds awesome I'm a little skeptical. It kind of reminds me of the ever-more popular maple-bacon ice cream... I like my ice creams to be unmistakably sweet (maybe too much so). The pear caramel one you mentioned above sound pretty great.

  6. Thanks, Amy. I hope you do try the porchetta. It's definitely celebration-worthy.

    The blue cheese ice cream was surprisingly good, but it certainly leans more towards after-dinner cheese course than straight-up dessert. It's not for everyone. As I said, I liked it best with extra honey. The pear caramel was definitely more my style, but I'm going to have to play around with it (the dairy was all whipping cream, which as you can imagine is a little heavy). But next, I think, I'm going to have to try out something from the Milk Bar cookbook.

  7. A wonderful menu Katie, I'm so glad it all went well - a belated happy thanksgiving!

    I am roasting a ham of sorts this year for Christmas for everyone - so I'm also with you on the pig front. I do love a turkey, but leftover ham is preferable, in sandwiches, with some chutney and cheese! I'm seriously more looking forward to the leftover sandwiches after Christmas day than I am the food on the day itself!

    I adore blue cheese, so I'm sure I would enjoy that ice cream. Are your friends blue cheese fans? None of mine are, so I'm wondering if they might like it too. I've never made ice cream at home either - do you need an ice cream maker for this one?

  8. I meant blackberries, sometimes I just can't remember the easiest words, look them up, and end up using the wrong word. Well, it was a blackberry ice cream I made out of the blackberries my boyfriend's parents had in their garden.
    The blue cheese ice cream still sounds like something I want to try.

    I think my mother decided to make a christmas ham, a potatoe gratin and dried green beans. My aunt will bring the dessert, and I'm going to make something small to go with the drinks before the dinner. The problem is, my family is not that experimental with food (That's an understatement, my mother cooks the same things over and over again, and my brothers dislike change) so I'll end up making something rather boring.
    A lot of families make a chinese hot pot (we call it a chinese fondue) for Christmas dinner, but that's not really traditional. We don't really have one traditional Christmas dinner that most of the people make, I just looked on one the homepage of a swiss cookbook series, and they mention Beef Wellington (we actually call it "Filet im Teig", which means filet in dough, or something like that, and I googled recipes for both, it should be about the same thing as Beef Aellington) as a traditional holiday dinner.

    Zoe, I think I would have the same problem with the blue cheese ice cream. I think my boyfriend would love it, too, but I don' think I could serve it to my friends, or my family. Leibovitz also shared how to make ice cream without a machine, if I find time to make ice cream I'll be using his version here:

  9. Thanks, Zoe. I agree, the importance of leftovers can't be emphasized enough, especially sandwiches. I'm pretty much new to roasts (cooking them, at least), but I have to say, I do like being able to open the fridge and just cut myself a thin slice or two off the roast. Very convenient in the middle of the week.
    About the blue cheese ice cream--I'd have to say that you probably won't be able to win anyone over with it if he or she isn't already a blue cheese fan. It's pretty intensely flavoured. I guess that would mean more for yourself? I used an ice cream maker, but I think that this ice cream would be a good candidate for the method that Lena linked to since (a) it's a custard-based ice cream and (b) the significant quantity of honey in it will make the formation of pesky ice crystals less likely. I'm not sure that it would keep its consistency very well with this method, though. As DL says, ice cream made this way is best eaten once it's ready. Using the ice cream maker, I didn't have any problems keeping it for longer. After Thanksgiving, my boyfriend and I finished off the leftovers in two or three days.

    Lena, don't worry about it. At least according to Wikipedia, "bramble" can refer to various blackberry- and blackberry-family-related things, depending on where you're speaking English--though I don't think it's very commonly used in North America at all. Anyway, blackberry ice cream sounds lovely. I wish I knew of some place close by to pick berries!
    And thanks for sharing. My family isn't too adventurous either. They were very sceptical for the most part about my non-traditional vegetarian contributions to holiday dinners. I was always a little disappointed, but it just meant that I got to take home the leftovers.