Monday, 27 February 2012

Fennel roast pork belly with braised kale

Spring may be in the air but there's still a chill around in the evenings and I reckon I'll still be cooking a few cold-weather favourites over the next month or so.

There are plenty of winter veg still available at this time of year, particularly greens which are possibly my favourite vegetable. A bag of curly kale makes a good match for a slab or two of roast pig - if the bag's too big for one, save the leftovers for a bubble and squeak, or hold some back from the cooking to make a caldo verde with next day.

Fennel has also been a favourite of mine for many years. I often braise a bulb for dinner or throw it finely sliced into a fish soup, but I've recently fallen in love with the seeds too. A generous teaspoon of them recently brightened up a roast chicken, imbuing the flesh with a delicate fragrance, but pork and fennel are just made for each other and roasting the crushed seeds gives a real kick to the meat. 

What you need:
2 slices of belly pork
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 clove of garlic
4-5 juniper berries
1 bag shredded curly kale
Olive oil

What to do:
Heat the oven to 180C. Crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar. Season the belly pork slices with sea salt and sprinkle the seeds over. Roast for 1 hour, turning occasionally.

Wash the kale and leave to drain in a colander. Bruise the juniper berries in the pestle and mortar then add the garlic clove and a pinch of sea salt and crush it into a paste. Heat the oil in a heavy sauteuse and gently fry the garlic and juniper until the garlic turns translucent and the aromas are released. Add the kale, turning it over in the pan to stir through the garlic and ensure the leaves are coated in oil. Jam a tight lid on, turn the heat down a notch and let the kale cook through - it should take about 45 minutes and shrink down to about half its volume.

Cook's tips: 
Kale often turns up in veg boxes between September and March but finding it elsewhere, even washed and shredded, can be a bit hit and miss - that's a shame as it's a really underrated veg. If you find a whole one, chopping it up in a food processor with a shredder attachment is far easier than slicing it by hand. Savoy cabbage is a good substitute- remove the ribs before the shredding the rest of the leaves as they can be a bit tough.

A pork chop or two under the grill, or even a boneless loin steak, is a less fatty alternative to belly pork. Grind the fennel seeds down as fine as possible and use them as a rub, giving the meat and fennel a good half-hour to get to know each other before you cook it.