Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The word for the day is "plain"


The plastic handle of my spatula melted onto the surface of the stove last night because I was trying to write the previous blog post while cooking dinner. I will miss that nimble little spatula. She was my favorite. If you ever see one of those flexible old granny spatulas with the super-thin, corroding metal edges and half-melted plastic handles at a garage sale, buy it. If you foolishly don’t want it for yourself, send it to me and I will reimburse you. 

As previously mentioned, I decided to compare the pork chops and roasted cauliflower recipes from Prune and Sean Brock’s Heritage in anticipation of the upcoming Piglet. I suspected this might not be the most exciting blog stunt and now, having cooked the pork chops and cauliflower from Prune, I am sure.  But I will stick to the plan.

Alda
Gabrielle Hamilton’s recipe for salt and pepper pork chops is so simple and stern that I couldn’t imagine it would work. This is a recipe borrowed from her revered Italian mother-in-law, Alda, to whom Hamilton devotes a whole chapter in Prune. There’s a lovely paean to Alda and her old-school cooking here, though I can’t promise you won’t hit a paywall. I’ve said it before: Gabrielle Hamilton can really write. 

Do you have your magnifying glass out? 
To make these chops, you heat a dry skillet until blazing hot, season sirloin pork chops with salt and pepper, put them in the pan and cook for five minutes, flip, cook eight minutes more, remove to a platter and smear with soft butter. Hamilton: “Do not garnish.” 

How were they? Plain. Appreciated. No weird spices, no questionable sauce. There’s a lot to be said for plain food served at an old dining room table on a mid-winter Monday night after a long hard day of school, work, and looking at Oriental rugs on eBay. If I ordered these pork chops in a special restaurant like Prune, though, I would be bummed.

Hamilton’s whole roasted cauliflower with fried capers and brown butter bread crumbs was also very easy. The name says it all, but here’s the two sentence blow by blow: Roast cauliflower whole with a lot of olive oil for 50 minutes then transfer to serving bowl. Fry some capers and breadcrumbs in butter and scatter this over the cauliflower. 

How was it? Zingy from the capers, crunchy from those buttery breadcrumbs. Appreciated. If I ordered this in a restaurant like Prune I wouldn’t be overjoyed, but I would be satisfied. It’s a good one.

As a bonus, I “whipped up” Hamilton’s pizza rustica, an Alda recipe that I was curious about because, like the pork chops, it looked so plain I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be good. You make a dough of flour, egg, and butter, put half of it in the bottom of a pan, top with fresh mozzarella season with salt and pepper, top with the other half of the dough, and bake. You do mess up your counter when you roll out the dough, but otherwise, a cinch.

How was it? Warm, it was plain in the most wonderful way, a soft, unchallenging, buttery, cheesy pastry. Cold, it was plain in a bad way, inert and flavorless. So eat it warm. Recipe here, though again, there might be a paywall.


Tonight: Sean Brock’s version of this same meal, minus the pizza. 

blizzard?

48 comments:

  1. I'm a fairly recent visitor -- somewhere I heard about your book, got it from the library, then got it, period. I am REALLY enjoying your prose style, and your approach to cooking and eating, and even the modest amount of grousing about the failures of your children to appreciate what a TREASURE they have. (My children, who are about the same ages as yours, fail similarly). Anyhow, thanks a lot. I do manage to survive without Ree Drummond's cookbook, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Wendy. My love affair with Ree occurred during a strange, unstable period of my life. I should perhaps revisit to see if the feelings are still alive. But why spoil a beautiful memory?

      Delete
  2. What a pity about that spatula! I know that this one is expensive but it is a total joy to use. I've had it for 12 years and think it was a terrific investment:

    http://www.peachsuite.com/793598/wusthof-trident-cutlery-w429-slotted-6-5-gourmet-fish-spatula-429915.html?gclid=CMO8qIqptcMCFc1i7AodgAYAHw&kwid=productads-plaid%5E75616853678-sku%5E793598-adType%5EPLA-device%5Ec-adid%5E51464530139

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, $41 and some coins. I checked Amazon, thinking they'd be cheaper, but no, it's $44 there. Too much for me. I'm sure it's wonderful.

      Delete
    2. I got one of those for Christmas a couple of years ago. It's really good, and worth it if you can't find an old-school spatula at a yard sale. Sadly, I've melted part of the handle, so it's no longer pristine...

      Delete
    3. I've seen those spatulas! I think my mother-in-law might have one, though I'm not sure. I will have to investigate. It looks like it would be flexible in the way I like.

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    4. It is! It will slip delicately under fish, fried eggs, pancakes, and anything else without disturbing it. I love mine!

      Delete
  3. I've heard about chops cooked like this somewhere else. though just a slight twist.
    Use a cast iron skillet (although can anyone call ccatst iron pan just a skillet) anyway. While skillet is getting hot, dry off chops as dry as possible, cut off any extranious hanging on fat or whatever to ensure that 4 fit into pan, with some jiggling. the pan should be covered in meat otherwise your kitchen will be smoked out. Once chops are in the pan sprinkle generously.... And that means looooots, of crystallized salt plain or fancy any works. But must be consistancy of kosher at least. Do no turn over until salt is melted and is no longer visible. And once salt has dissapated.... Still don't flip them... But the chops do release this icky icky gunk. There is no other way to describe it. Pick it out and discard. When you might need an oxygen mask from all the smoke... It's time to turn them over. Squinch them all in and layer the salt on again. This time when the salt melts squeeze half to a full lemon over the whole mess. Flip to original side and add more fresh lemon. Plate

    I've made them this way five x's now
    It's the only way
    Then for some reason I got a brain storm of immense proportion..... And did it outside on the burner attached to the BBQ.... I know... Brainiac or what????
    If you've ever heard someone say "it was so good, I sucked the bone dry"! This is what will happen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bone-in chops? What type of pork chops? That sounds very similar to what I did.

      Delete
    2. Hi, this is similar to Wednesday Chef's pork chops, but she only puts salt on one side:
      http://www.thewednesdaychef.com/the_wednesday_chef/2012/08/dispatch-from-italy-pork-chops.html

      Very delicious, and I like the lemon juice.

      Delete
  4. I love roasted cauliflower. I just slice it like a brain, lay it out onto an oiled, salted, peppered sheet pan, oil, salt and pepper the tops, and roast in a super hot oven until deep mahogany brown, flipping halfway through. It's like candy. Sometimes I make it in my pizza oven, in which case it cooks in about 15 minutes or less. Otherwise it takes about an hour.

    Those daffodils are pretty. Down here in LA I haven't pruned my rosebushes back (which apparently you are supposed to do, but I'm such a poor gardener that until this year I never have) because they are still in full bloom. You call this winter? Pfft.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This winter is pathetic. The way it feels right now, cherries are just around the corner. (I've never pruned my roses either.)

      Delete
  5. Sherry Marie1/28/15, 3:41 AM

    I know how you feel about your spatula. I had a smooth one from when we were married in 1974. Loved it. One day the plastic handle split and fell off so I tossed it out. I tried several spatulas after that but it really was the only one thin enough to get under fried eggs in my little cast iron skillet. With every other spatula I tried, I broke the yolks. I finally started checking thrift stores and found the identical spatula. After a few years, its handle also broke. I glued it back together but eventually it split for good. I tossed the handle and kept the utensil part. I use it nearly every morning, looking just like your picture at the top of this page.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that story. The little, broken tool you keep using because it works just fine. One of us should go collect all the ancient spatulas we can find and open an online store: Old Spatulas R Us.

      Delete
  6. Have you gone down the etsy rabbit hole yet? Here is one that I found which is similar to my mom's favorite spatula-

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/180189660/household-japan-small-spatula-long?ref=market

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should have looked at that store before replying to the previous comment. I love those implements.

      Delete
  7. I have two of those old school spatulas but mine both have wooden handles. My mom also has one and she cleverly painted the wood handle so she won't get splinters. If you can find the wood handled spatulas, grab them quick.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your clever mother. That's something my mother or grandmother would have done.

      Delete
  8. You California people with your flowers....windchill of 19F here today and not even enough snow to make it pretty.....I have my grandmother's rolling pin...seems like the dough never even sticks to it. I do like the chef'n spatulas I own--thin plastic blade--gets under eggs and won't damage non-stick.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The grass is always greener -- beautiful here today. Could be out in a sundress. I want a real winter and we sure need the rain.

      Delete
  9. I had the perfect spatula (mint green wooden handle) that I picked up at a yard sale in Pittsburgh. I loved it unreasonably until I snapped it in half doing something stupid. I'd trade nearly anything in my kitchen for another one.
    BTW, I'm loving my treadmill desk--- thanks for the endorsement and advice!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad about the desk, Kate. I'm walking on mine as I type.

      Delete
  10. Also: insanely jealous of the daffodils. We could use some spring here in RI.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, but you'll have a beautiful, hard-earned spring as opposed to our weird premature spring followed by dismal drought.

      Delete
  11. Hi, Jennifer!
    I am so behind on your posts. Enjoying them all. You can find those great old spatulas on ebay! I bought one on there!

    ReplyDelete
  12. So fix it!
    *Get a stick of some nice wood (apple? poplar?)
    *drill a hole in the end a little too small for the tang.
    *clamp the flipper in a vice, tang pointing up.
    *drive the handle over the tang.
    *shape the handle.
    *wrap the joint in copper wire.
    Pardon the thought, it's a piece of cake.

    ReplyDelete
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