A Rainy Summer Feast and the Road to Retribution

by Marina Chotzinoff

We recently got back from a road trip to Arizona. Typical road trip eating aside, I have to say most of our meals out (save one awesome smoked pork and coleslaw sandwich in the fabulously strange town of Jerome) were dreadful. I believe one of our co-travelers put it best when he said “Arizona is a place where food goes to die.” Now I am sure there are plenty of decent eats in that state, but we didn’t cross their path and I’ve been working on rectifying the horrors with some home cooked awesome ever since. So more on the road trip later as Jerome also saved the day via some fabulous flavored oils and vinegars which we carried home….and on to the meal at hand.

This is our first year growing more than tomatoes, herbs and a handful of potted things like eggplant and chilis. Our four beds are big (for us) and we are growing organic without much experience yet so it has been a bit of a roll of the dice. The crazy heat so far has been worrisome though my sister outfitted us with a series of drip lines that, while not yet perfect, at least make soaking the soil a little easier. The bugs, though, are a different matter and I have yet to really conquer them.

The broccoli look awesome from a distance, but get closer and you see what looks like thick patches of grey fuzz which turn out to be aphids. I’ve been out there every other day spraying them with the hose which is a messy, wet and tedious process. The arugula next to it has flea beatles which don’t seem to do more than visual harm. And the spiders. Holy hell, the spiders. I think almost every tiny head of dainty butter lettuce had a giant, menacing spider sitting on it. I felt like such a sissy whapping at each one and shrieking a bit to myself as I tried to pick my dinner. I finally brought a pot of water out with me and quickly picked a few small heads and dropped them straight in hoping at least nothing would leap and, crawl up my arm and bite my face when I tried to make my salad. I clearly need some toughening up. In the meantime, though, I have enjoyed many salads, arugula pesto, miso glazed eggplant, many variations of kale and chard and of course a bounty of herbs. And THAT is exciting.

Yesterday we did a toasted farro with broccoli, cashews, shallots, a coconut, basil drizzle with pan seared scallops and our miso glazed eggplant. I didn’t bother with a photo or a post, but it was simple, quick and really wonderful. I wish I could grow scallops because they are crazy expensive and travel so far. Alas, I love them so.

Tonight I pulled out a couple large bone-in pork chops and a very large rutabaga I had picked up at the store. I recalled a simple, but elegant dish that was nothing more than rutabaga, butter and pepper and thought that seemed a good direction. But as I pondered the idea of toasty black pepper, I thought of the Italian cacio e pepe which is essentially pasta with cheese and pepper. I thought that would be wonderful with rutabaga and a great side for some meaty chops. The pasta dish relies on the starchy pasta water and a vigorous toss of all the ingredients to make a creamy sauce of the cheese. I knew I would not be able to do that with the tender rutabaga but figured the flavors would be enough for a spectacular side dish.

The only snafu was that as I was cooking the rutabaga, I went to get cheese and saw I only had some manchego and the ricotta salata. While I thought that a slight bit of sheepy funk would be nice with the rooty vegetable, I knew it could not be done without some good parmesan. So we braved the rain and walked to the store quickly to fetch some. Everything else followed without a hitch.

I had also picked up a couple peaches when I bought the pork as they are such a great pairing and peaches are great right now. Last week (before the vacation of beef jerky, Subway and some pretty tasty onion flavored snacks from Trader Joe’s called Snack-Os) we had made a grilled steak with a side salad of grilled peaches, onions and bacon. It was so good I intended to do something similar again, this time also buying some ricotta salata and picking fresh lettuce and arugula from the garden. I figured I would use one peach to make a gastrique for the pork and would grill the other for a small side salad.

I began by reducing some apple juice, then sauteeing some shallots, adding a peach, some white balsamic peach vinegar (thanks Jerome), water, mustard seeds, mustard and thyme to a pot to gently simmer. I then thinly sliced the rutabaga and cut it into wide strips. The pork got a dusting of coriander, chili powder, granulated garlic, s&p. I cooked the rutabaga in butter until it was slightly browning, then removed it from the pan. I added more butter, toasted some cracked pepper and added back the rutabaga and grated cheese and gently stirred. The pork was grilled along with the other peach and a small onion. And that was pretty much it.

It was a great rainy day meal with the earthy, nutty rutabaga playing so nicely off the smokey pork followed by the sweet, tangy gastrique and fresh, bitter, sweet salad.

2/3 c apple juice
1 T olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 peach, chopped
2 T white balsamic or cider vinegar (I used white balsamic peach, but that is probably not easy to find)
3 T water
1/4 t colemans mustard
1 T thyme

2 bone-in double cut pork chops
chili powder
granulated garlic

1 peach, cut into six wedges
1 small, yellow onion cut into thick slices
1 c tender and bitter greens
1 oz ricotta salata, crumbled
1 piece bacon, cooked and crumbled

Rutabaga ‘Cacio e Pepe’
1 large rutabaga (I did not weigh it, but it yielded about 4 cups), thinly sliced and cut into wide noodles
4 T butter
cracked black pepper
3/4 c parmesan, grated
1/4 c ricotta salata, grated
splash water

Heat grill. Sprinkle pork chops with even layer of all spices.

Simmer apple juice in small pot until slightly syrupy and reduced to 2 T. Remove to cup, rinse pot, heat oil and saute shallots until translucent. Add remaining ingredients and simmer on low until the mixture is thick and the mustard seeds are softened stirring occasionally to break up the fruit.

Melt 2 T butter in a large pan and cook rutabaga, stirring gently until softened and water has accumulated. Crank heat, stirring occasionally until starting to brown. Be careful not to break apart too much. Remove to a bowl, add remaining 2 T butter and grind pepper evenly across pan. Cook until fragrant, then add a couple T of water, the rutabaga and cheeses and toss gently to combine.

Drizzle pork chops with a little oil and place on the grill. Gently toss the peach wedges and onion slices in oil and grill each side until marks appear, then remove to bowl. Roughly chop onions and toss with peaches, lettuces, ricotta salata, bacon, a pinch of salt and splash of vinegar (peach vinegar here is best).

Once pork has reached 140-5, remove and allow to rest. Slice, place on plate with gastrique, rutabaga and salad.

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