Quick Pork and Asparagus Lunch

One of the things that I like most about being in middle Italy* is seasonal eating. Italy is much better than the UK for eating what is in season rather than importing from far afield: Now this is only an observation based upon my experience here in Abruzzo. Possibly up in the affluent North there’s supermarkets filled with out-of-season produce meaning the discerning Milanese can have asparagus all year round.

What a coincidence…

It’s asparagus that I’m talking about today – Okay I admit it, that was a tenuous link.

Asparagus is one of the healthiest vegetables out there, it’s low in calories, just 20 per 100g but it’s also high in potassium, b-complex vitamins and other healthy green stuff and it tastes lovely too.

Italian asparagus season starts in March with the local population combing every lane and slice of rough land for the wild variety, which is bitter to the palate and spindly; but good in an omelette with lashings of black pepper and a knob of salted butter. At the moment cultivated asparagus is in abundance; In fact down at our local store it’s just €1.49 a kilo, so it would be silly not to take advantage.

So I got some for the freezer and some to just enjoy while it’s fresh. Now there’s a few folks who say asparagus doesn’t freeze well, but I find if you blanch it for no longer than 2 minutes it keeps well frozen and is then best grilled or oven baked rather than steamed once defrosted.

So today I made a super easy Italian lunch with just three ingredients, (six if you count seasoning – but who’s being pedantic?). So here it is my easy pork and asparagus lunch. (serves one).

The ingredients you will need are:

1 portion of pork steak

30g of Gorgonzola.

8 asparagus spears

1.

See it’s that easy. The only additional things you need are salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Okay as all good cooks know you need to have a soundtrack to create to, and today my iPod is set to play the 17 minute 20 second version of I’m a Man, the 1978 disco classic from the band, Macho. (this works for me on a sunny Monday in Abruzzo, just don’t ask to see the images of me singing and dancing as I cook). So select your cooking music and 2.

let’s get started. Trim off the woody ends of the asparagus and set them aside, I’ll tell you why at the end**. Put a pan of enough water to just cover the asparagus on to boil and add a pinch of salt. Once the water is boiling put in the asparagus and boil for just 4 minutes rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and keep the colour and put them onto one side.

3.

Heat a non-stick frying pan, do not add any oil and once the pan is hot put in the pork steak and cook, turning it over at intervals until, it is cooked through to your liking. (Despite the traditional way of cooking this meat, I prefer my pork to be a little underdone).

4.

Once the pork is cooked, set it aside to rest and drop the Gorgonzola into another pan on a low heat. Allow the cheese to start to melt then add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes giving it a pinch of black pepper. Once the asparagus is coated with the molten blue cheese add to a plate and serve with the pork and give the whole dish a squeeze of lemon, (the juice in a plastic lemon is okay if you don’t have a fresh one to hand).

6.

Once plated up sit down in front of it and devour your lunch with relish.

7.

* I call Abruzzo middle Italy but people here refer to it as southern Italy saying the north ends at the Marche border.

** Drop the woody ends into boiling unsalted water and let them boil away for about 20 minutes, they’ll be soft at the end of the boiling, but discard them and keep the water. Let it cool and then freeze it until the next time you’re making a risotto with asparagus, drop the frozen asparagus broth into your risotto for an extra hit of flavour. This also works if you’re making a soup use the frozen asparagus broth as you would a shop bought vegetable stock cube.

Worth the Work

A few years back, a friend called to see me and I was in the kitchen pushing cooked tomatoes through a fine sieve to make pasta sauce for the evening’s dinner. She commented that it seemed, “A bit of a faff.”* when you can just open a jar of shop bought sauce. “But, will processed sauce from a jar taste this good?” I replied. She shrugged her shoulders and said “Yeah, probably.” Twenty five minutes later as she was devouring the sauce, she was in effect, eating her words.

I remembered this the other day as I noticed we had some tomatoes that were going over** so I made some for a weekday lunch. It’s an easy recipe and makes use of tomatoes that you’d normally throw out. On this occasion I had 4 medium sized tomatoes and 8 small cherry ones, I chopped them up and added them to a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and just let them cook down, occasionally stirring them. After about 10 minutes you can add a quarter of a glass of red wine if you like, but that’s an optional addition. A further 10 minutes later they’ll be soft; don’t be alarmed by any black or burned skins. Let them cool down and once they are cold push the pulp through a fine sieve using the back of a spoon. (If you use a metal sieve use a plastic or wooden spoon as metal on metal can taint the taste).

sauce

This amount of tomatoes won’t make a large amount of sauce but will give you enough for 2 servings of pasta and sauce.

Excluding cooling down time, it’s so far taken around 30 minutes to prepare and sieve. Compare this to the time it takes to drive to the supermarket, park the car and walk around the shelves before standing in a queue to pay.

sauce 2

 

The principle of Italian cooking is about fresh produce, home cooking and as little waste as possible and I’ve always been attracted to this ethos so I’ve always made my own pasta sauce rather than buy it in jars.

This recipe was given to me so long ago I have forgotten which of my Italian friends passed it on to me, but with their thanks I’ve now passed it onto you.

So having made a portion of the sauce a day or so ago I retrieved it from the fridge and here’s what I did with it today.

DSCF8504 I picked 5 large basil leaves from my herb table outside the kitchen door and chopped 3 garlic cloves. These were added to 3 small sausages from my local butcher that have been chopped up into small pieces. Add a little olive oil to a pan and fry the sausage until it starts to brown, then add the garlic and 3 minutes later add the sauce.

Sauce 3

Let it simmer for a couple of minutes then add the shredded basil leaves as your pasta cooks in lots of boiling salted water. Once the pasta is cooked combine this with your sauce and serve straight away with a liberal sprinkling of grated Grana Padano cheese and a hunk of good Italian bread: This quick lunch all about good food not a fear of carbohydrates.

There’s many flavour combinations that you can create, this sauce goes well with tuna and chillies or pancetta and ricotta, or simply as a intense tomato sauce on spaghetti.

Sadly it looked so good I ate it before I remembered to take a photo of the finished dish, but isn’t that what food’s all about, a little effort for a huge return in flavour and pleasure. Give this a try and I know you’ll never buy supermarket sauces that are laden with salt and sugar again. The bonus is, it will keep for a week in the fridge and can be frozen.

* To spend time in ineffectual activity or wasting time doing something not necessary.

** Too ripe and going soft