I always feel like a small child at Christmas when I go to the Saturday PDX Farmer’s Market because every time I discover new and exciting products and producers. One of my recent finds has been a company called Tails and Trotters who I was originally was introduced to by Malia, my saleslady from Foods in Season, a specialty food purveyor in Washington State. What makes Tails and Trotters so unique and amazing is how they feed their pigs to create the best tasting pork you’ll ever try. Founder Aaron Silverman works in conjunction with a local family farm that GMO free and sustainably raises pigs, than finishes them on a diet largely composed of Oregon hazelnuts similar in concept to the black footed Spanish pigs who forage the Dehesa forest ecosystem feeding primarily on acorns. The result is a healthy, tasty pork with a higher percentage of unsaturated fats and scarce amino acids.
“The passive American consumer, sitting down to a meal of pre-prepared food, confronts inert, anonymous substances that have been processed, dyed, breaded, sauced, gravied, ground, pulped, strained, blended, prettified, and sanitized beyond resemblance to any part of any creature that ever lived. The products of nature and agriculture have been made, to all appearances, the products of industry. Both eater and eaten are thus in exile from biological reality.”
― Wendell Berry
All my adult life I have never understood how people can decide what they want to eat before they grocery shop. I suppose I am old fashioned in that respect but I prefer to wander through the market and let inspiration take it’s natural course. Foods harvested in season tend to go well with each other and can be used as a recipe template. I suppose this is why I disdain large grocery store chains that defy nature by attempting to separate us from our ancestery and heritage by offering seasonal ingredients year round, like tomatoes and strawberries that really only taste great in their due season. They offer my stomach a monoculture that lacks the diversity and excitement found by shopping directly from farmers, fishermen and foragers.
I was so happy when I discovered the Tails and Trotters booth. I couldn’t decide what to buy so I ended up with loads of pork products to play with. When I saw the pork cheeks my mind wandered to a pasta dish I made professionally with wild boar using bittersweet chocolate pasta as a foil to the sweet and spicy notes in the sauce. Hazelnuts, orange and bittersweet chocolate are the perfect match for fatty, unctuous pork cheeks when perfectly braised.
A Chitarra, or guitar in Italian, is a device used to cut fresh sheets of pasta by using a rolling pin to press dough through strings resulting in a pasta with square edges. Maybe I am hallucinating but I feel it gives the pasta a different bite in your mouth. You can buy chitarras online from a variety of vendors for around $40. If you do not have one or don’t want to invest in one than just cut pasta on your machine or even substitute store bought regular pasta or creamy polenta.
- 38 grams Cocoa
- 2 Eggs
- 200 grams All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 teaspoon Maldon Sea Salt
- Whisk the cocoa and eggs together.
- Add flour and salt and knead for eight minutes.
- Put into a ziplock bag and let rest for at least one hour. When I started making pasta quite a bit I developed a technique of vacuum packing fresh dough and letting rest one day. The flour soaks up the liquid and results in a pasta that is incomparable to others.
- 4 Tail and Trotter Pork Cheeks
- Sea Salt/Black Pepper
- 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 medium Carrot,m peeled and diced
- 1 Sweet Onion, peeled and diced
- 1/2 cup diced Fennel Bulb
- 1 cup pureed San Marzano Tomatoes
- 1 cup White Wine
- 2 Tablespoons Butter
- Season pork cheeks with sea salt, black pepper and herbes de Provence.
- Heat olive oil in a heavy sauce pan and brown cheeks on both sides.
- Add diced carrots, onion and fennel and continue to cook till onions are translucent, about five minutes.
- Add tomato puree and white wine, bring to a boil, then simmer till cheeks are tender, about three hours. During the course of cooking you will have to flip the cheeks often and perhaps add water from time to time to keep it from drying out.
- When the cheeks are ridiculously tender remove them and cut into a large dice.
- Add back to the sauce and finish with butter.
- 1 cup whole milk Ricotta
- 1 Orange, zested with a microplane
- 1 teaspoon Harissa Powder
- Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
- Mix everything together and adjust to your personal tastes. I like to taste the orange balanced with a bit of heat from the Harissa powder.
The final assembly of the dish is uber simple. Have your pork cheek ragu warmed in a pan ready to go. Drop your chocolate pasta into a rapidly boiling pot of salted water and cook for about two minutes. The pasta should have a slight bite (al dente) when cooked properly. Drizzle a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper then plate onto a warmed pasta bowl. Top with a the ragu and a loving spoonful of ricotta. Enjoy a big red like a Primitivo. Be sure and buy some of Tail and Trotters pork!