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Books: Hudson Valley Mediterranean

The Hudson Valley also has been coined “The Napa Valley of the East”.  Laura Pensiero, chef/restaurateur of Rhinebeck’s acclaimed Gigi Trattoria has penned this wonderful cookbook.  The message promotes what we’ve been hearing all along: “Eat local, eat seasonal.”  Worth every cent. I highly recommend it. Support your local farmers’ markets and follow Laura’s lead.

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RECIPE: Goodbye-Winter Choucroute
Pages 52-3

Makes 12 to 14 Servings

“What a dramatic and aromatic presentation this dish makes in the dead of winter! On particularly cold nights, we prepare our Mediterranean version (seasonal with pancetta and prosciutto) as a special for our customers. At the last of winter, we kick the season away with a full-on party at my farmhouse, serving the choucroute with crusty breads, pickled vegetable, and Alsatian cheeses and wines and beers. We use all sorts of fresh, cured, and confit meats from local producers. The ingredients list is long (and flexible). But the presentation is really not fussy; you chop the vegetables and meats into large rustic-looking chunks and cook the choucroute slowly for several hours, melting the vegetables, tenderizing the meat, and perfuming the house. Enjoy the whole process.

Ingredients:

3 pounds sauerkraut, preferably organic
1 medium onion, studded with 12 to 14 cloves
¼ cup olive oil
6 ounces nitrate-free bacon, cut into 2-to-3 inch chunks (I use Mountain Products Smokehouse slab bacon, or pancetta)
1 pound pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 3-inch-long segments (I use Mountain Products Smokehouse)
7 ounces bratwurst, sliced into 3-inch-long segments
6 ounces kielbasa (I use Northwind Farms), sliced into 3-inch-long segments
One 8-ounce end piece of prosciutto
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries
1 cup Alsatian white wine, such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer
1 bouquet garni (our mix: 6 parsley sprigs, 6 thyme sprigs, 6 fresh sage leaves, 2 bay leaves, and a cinnamon stick, tied together with string)
4 cups chicken or beef stock or reduced-sodium broth, heated

Rinse the sauerkraut thoroughly, and drain it. Spread the sauerkraut over the bottom of the an attractive 6-quart casserole, preferably one with a lid (otherwise have aluminum foil ready to cover). Place the clove-studded onion in the center. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 275? F.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the pork shoulder and cook until the pork and bacon are nicely browned, another 5 minutes. Add the bratwurst, bockwurst, and kielbasa, and continue to cook until all the meats are well colored, 5 to 7 minutes. Finally, add the prosciutto chunk and the celery, carrot, onion, and juniper berries.

Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes, Add the wine and cook, stirring to deglaze the skillet, until the liquid is reduced by half, 2 minutes.

Transfer the meat, vegetables, and pan juices to the casserole. Add the bouquet garni. Pour the stock over the meat and vegetables. The liquid should come to about 1 inch below the top of the meat and vegetables; add water or more stock if it doesn’t. Cover the casserole with a lid or foil, transfer it to the oven, and bake for 3 to 4 hours (this is a dish that will only improve with more cooking). Add a bit more liquid, ½ cup at a time, if needed, during the cooking time to prevent drying.

Remove the lid and the bouquet garni. The dish will not likely need salt, Serve immediately, straight from the casserole.

Serving Suggestions:
Serve with any combination of the following parslied boiled young potatoes, caramelized apple slices, pickled vegetables, grated horseradish, and/or a variety of mustards. (To caramelize apples, peel, core, and cut them into 1-inch-thick rounds. Cook in butter over medium heat until browned on both sides and soft but still structured.) And of course, serve Alsatain wine or beer.

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