20 August 2011

Pork & Fennel Bolognese

dairy free egg free nut free gluten free

Pork is the meat of choice in our house when making bolognese. And while there are as many variations of bolognese as there are types of pasta, this version is my hands-down favourite. Fennel replaces the soffritto (carrot, onion, celery) lending a satisfying sweetness, and the hint of bay gives it depth. My mother's sugo is legendary for its simplicity and restraint and I can happily report that when I serve this one up, my daughter asks "Is this Nonna's?" even though fennel doesn't feature in her version. 

(Apparently, 6 out of 10 Australian chefs prefer pork in their bolognese according to 2009 edition of Australian Gourmet Traveller. If you're still making bolognese with beef, it may be time for a change.)

I would think that the only way to improve on this excellent sauce, would be to add some white wine just after adding the meat. We tend not to use much wine in cooking these days as most are processed with egg and milk products. But next time I come across an organic/vegan wine, I might just try it...

500g pork mince
1 large fennel bulb, chopped into 1cm pieces
1 large red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 bottle tomato passata/puree
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
olive oil

Heat a large saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, gently fry onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add chopped fennel and fry on low-medium heat for about 15 minutes or until soft and golden. Turn heat to medium-high and add pork mince, breaking it up with your spoon and fry until cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped tomatoes, passata and bay leaf and bring to the boil, then reduce to low heat, simmering for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.

Stir through cooked pasta and serve.

01 August 2011

Braised Artichokes

dairy free egg free nut free vegan gluten free

Artichokes are my vegetable love crush. If I were asked to choose my last meal on earth, I'd be tempted to eschew the foie gras and truffles, and accept a plate of delicately braised artichokes instead (maybe a few deep-fried ones thrown in.)

They're a robust and tricky vegetable to prepare, but all the more satisfying for having made the effort. The pile of waste can be a little alarming once you're done peeling away the tough outer leaves, and removing the top third of the flower. Artichokes are a member of the thistle family, so most of it is inedible anyway. Leave some of the tougher leaves intact so that once cooked you can scrape out their tender flesh between your teeth and discard the skin. This is an integral and rewarding part of the journey towards the prized, heartbreakingly-tender inner petals.

Finally, it's important to leave a decent portion of the stem attached - the flavour there is the absolute essence of artichoke.

4 globe artichokes
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and cut off all but a few centimetres of the stems. Peel away the hard remnants of the base and the outer fibrous layers of the stems until you get to the pale green. Cut off the tops, about a third of the way down. Slice in half lengthways right through to the stem. Dig out the furry choke with a teaspoon. After you've prepared each artichoke to this stage, place them in a large bowl of water with the lemon juice added - you need to do this to prevent them from discolouring.

Heat the garlic and olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the drained artichokes in a single layer cut side down. Cook over low-medium heat until garlic is aromatic. Add the parsley, turn over and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes then turn them back over so they are face down again. Add 1/2 cup water, cover the pan and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. Take off lid and turn up the heat a bit and simmer for another 10 minutes until all the water has evaporated and you are left with some juice at the bottom of the pan like a sauce. Remove from pan to a serving platter, cut sides up, sprinkle more parsley, drizzle sauce from the pan with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper.

You can also cut the artichokes in quarters, just reduce the cooking time.