Monday, December 10, 2007

An Ottolenghi Christmas

Roasted pork belly with orange & star anise

Roasted pork belly with orange and star anise.

This cut of pork, slowly cooked, offers the best contrasting textures. The crackling skin and fatty meat, along with the mellow spiciness of anise and sharp sweetness of orange, are exactly what you'd expect both of pork and of Christmas. It's the ideal festive centrepiece for the inexperienced or kitchen-shy; if you follow the instructions, it's hard to get wrong, yet is highly impressive. Goes well with french beans and roasted potatoes. Serves six to eight.

7 oranges, halved
1 bunch thyme, roughly chopped
1 bunch rosemary, roughly chopped
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
100ml olive oil
2-3kg pork belly, rind on
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
2/3 bottle white wine

For the star anise reduction

500ml orange juice
180ml balsamic vinegar
160g honey
10 star anise

Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Arrange the orange halves in a large roasting tray, cut side up. Put the herbs, garlic and oil in a food processor and blitz roughly. Lay the pork on top of the orange halves, skin side down, and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using your hands, spread the herb mixture evenly all over the upward-facing side of the meat, pressing so it sticks. Turn the joint over, so it's now skin side up and sitting on the orange halves. (Don't be too fastidious - not all the oranges have to be under the meat.) Wipe the skin dry with kitchen towel and sprinkle all over with sea salt.

Roast at full blast for an hour, turning the tray around halfway through. By the end of the hour, the pork should have turned a deep golden colour and the skin have firmed up. Turn down the heat to 160C/325F/gas mark 3, pour the white wine into the base of the tray, avoiding the skin, and roast for an hour more. If the belly begins to turn black, cover with foil. For the last cooking stage, turn down the heat to 110C/225F/gas mark ΒΌ, and roast for another hour, uncovered, until the skin has crackled and thoroughly dried.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Put all the ingredients in a heavy-based pan, stir and place over a medium heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to a third. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

When the pork is ready, take it out of the oven. To serve, cut the joint into segments of a few ribs each, cutting in between the bones. Plate the pork pieces and orange halves on a large platter, and pour some of the cooking liquids on top, followed by a little of the star anise reduction. Dot the 10 star anises from the reduction here and there over the meat, for decoration, and serve the remaining sauce on the side.

Roasted pumpkin wedges with chestnut, cinnamon & fresh bay leaves

Roasted pumpkin wedges with chestnut, cinammon and fresh bay leaves.

A simple and gratifying dish that looks great and is very easy to make. Lay out on a flat serving dish and bring to the table. It doesn't get much more Christmassy than this. Goes well with almost any main course. Serves four to six.

1 medium pumpkin, about 1.3kg
6 tbsp olive oil
4 cinnamon sticks
4 tbsp maple syrup
3 garlic cloves, crushed
20 fresh sage leaves
10 fresh bay leaves
Salt and black pepper
150g cooked chestnuts

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ gas mark 6. Cut the unpeeled pumpkin into wedges (1-2cm at the thick end) and discard the seeds; leave the skin on. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin pieces with four tablespoons of olive oil, the cinnamon, three tablespoons of maple syrup, the garlic, sage, half the bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Lay out in a single layer in a large roasting tray and roast for 20-25 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and golden. Add the chestnuts five minutes before the end.

Arrange the tray's contents on a serving platter and scatter the remaining bay leaves over the top. Stir together the remaining syrup and oil, and drizzle on top. Serve warm.


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