Now who would have guessed pork and beans could be a holiday-worthy dish?
I love the grandeur of a full crown roast of pork, replete with Frenched bones and their little frilly paper hats, but until I get a bigger apartment, my grandeur has to be on the modest side. Which is how I've become so enamored of the half rack of pork, brined and then slowly roasted. It has giant flavor, excellent kitchen-, oven-, and table-space economy, and visual punch.
Plus: Favorite Fall Recipes
The fava beans are another story of modest grandeur. Baked, yes. Beans, no doubt. But there the similarities to the baked beans you've had at campfires or in school cafeterias end. These beans are bright and juicy and creamy all at once, with a remarkable fresh lift from mint and fennel. The traditional components of tomato paste and molasses are replaced by whole peeled tomatoes and clear mild honey, which make all the difference in the world and elevate this dish to holiday status. I have made it with not-so-excellent beans of unknown provenance and age - those convenient one-pound bags from the grocery store - and have also been lucky enough to make them with beans from a friend's garden, dried in her garage. The results are equally delicious, but the cooking times may vary, so add water to the pot - and cooking time - if needed until you have the right consistency. And as always, if you add water, remember to adjust the seasoning.
I rarely tell people how to put their meals together, but if it were me, I'd add a salad of shaved fennel, thinly sliced orange, and a little red onion to round out the meal. That and a tablecloth counts, in my mind at least, as a not-so-modest feast.
Serves 4, generously
For the pork:
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons toasted caraway seeds
Peel of 1 orange
1 head of garlic, cut in half horizontally (no need to remove papery skin)
1 small bulb fresh fennel, split in half from stem to stalk, feathery green tops removed and set aside
5 bay leaves
1 four-rib rack of pork, chine bone gently split
1. In a large pot (or bucket), dissolve the brown sugar and salt in 1 quart water, stirring until completely dissolved. Add 3 quarts water and the rest of the ingredients, and place the pork in the brine.
2. Soak overnight, but not more than 24 hours, in the refrigerator. (You can transfer the pork and brine to a two-gallon Ziploc bag inside another two-gallon bag for an easier fridge fit.)
3. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
4. Remove the pork from the brine and let it sit at room temperature for approximately one hour to shake off the chill. Discard the brine.
5. Set the pork on a roasting rack in a roasting pan and place it in the center or upper third of the oven. Roast for approximately two hours, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the meat reads between 145 and 160 degrees.
6. Remove the pork from the oven and allow it to rest 20 minutes before carving.
For the baked beans:
1 pound dried, shelled fava beans, covered in cold water and soaked overnight
½ cup olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
2 small bulbs fresh fennel, split in half from stem to stalk, feathery green tops removed and set aside
1 can (14 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes (Muir Glen brand, if possible)
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup mild honey
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, plus another ½ cup for finishing
Salt and pepper to season
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Cover presoaked beans in cold water and simmer for 30 minutes. In a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and sweat the onions with the split fennel bulbs until soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and their juices and gently crush with a wooden spoon until broken apart. Stir in the cider vinegar and the honey.
3. Drain the beans. Add the beans to the pot of tomato-honey mixture and stir well to incorporate thoroughly.
4. Chop the mint and feathery green fennel tops and stir into the beans. Season with salt and pepper - more pepper than salt, in this case. Cover tightly and place in the oven for a little over one hour, until the beans are soft and fully cooked.
5. Stir in more freshly chopped mint just before serving.
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