Crackling and Stripping

That’ll be the crackling on a pork belly, and the stripping of a Victorian Fireplace. Not some traditional pre Christmas party games, sorry to disappoint!

First, the food…for who can work on an empty stomach? Inspired by a recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book “River Cottage Everyday” (his crackling was made with coriander and fennel seeds), I gave a thick piece of pork belly a few minutes of love before popping it into the oven with some whole sweet potatoes and ended up with a fabulous lunch and lots of lovely cold pork for leftovers.

Cumin & Anis Pork Belly 009

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 3 heaped teaspoons of cumin seeds (coriander in the original recipe)
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of fennel seeds
  • 1 piece of thick-end pork belly (scored, if possible) mine contained 4 ribs
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7

Put the seeds into a mortar and crush them lightly. Rub the pork skin with the salt and pepper and just over half the seeds. Scatter the remaining seeds into a roasting tray and lay the meat on top. Cook on high for 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 180C/Gas 4 and continue to cook for 1 ½ hours.

If your crackling hasn’t fully crackled, turn the oven back up to high and check every few minutes until it is done to your liking. Remove the meat from the oven and leave it to rest in a warm placed (but uncovered) for about 15 minutes. It will stay warm and keeping it uncovered will keep the crackling “crackly”. If you need to leave it for longer before eating, remove the skin and keep that to one side, wrap the meat in foil and keep warm until serving.

Serve with your favourite veggies and be sure to make enough to enjoy leftovers another day!

Meanwhile, all other sensible folk are starting to get their homes in order for Christmas. We, on the other hand, pulled up some horrible carpet which will soon be gone permanently, then the floorboards in the dining room. This was to find the source of the mysterious bouncing floor. A rotten joist awaited us so Big Man set to repairing the damage.

Rotten Joist

Not wanting to be left out of the DIY session, I decided to start stripping the first of the three cast iron fireplaces which were fortunately not ripped out upstairs.

Little Bed Fireplace (1)

We have one in each of the bedrooms and one in the bathroom.

Little Bed Fireplace (3)Little Bed Fireplace (4)

As you can see, I think this may be a long job, but I have a lot of patience for jobs like this, and I love a challenge!

Arroz Caldoso con Habas y Esparragos – Rice with Broad Beans and Asparagus

Spanish rice is a little different from Italian risotto rice. Like risotto rice it is generally cooked in a large amount of flavoured stock (for example in a paella) but the grains stay separate rather than turning creamy.  However, use whatever you have, it will still be a wonderfully delicious dish.

To keep it vegetarian, use water or the stock from cooking the vegetables, otherwise chicken stock will add extra flavour.

And before the recipe, a little word about how we eat our broad beans around here. In the photo you will see about 1 ½ kilos of beans from our veggie patch. Many people here simply top and tail them and then chop them into chunks. Almost nothing is wasted, the pods are eaten too unless they are especially tough. The pods which give the biggest beans are more mature, and are less digestible.

It seems sad to me to throw so much away (although our chickens would be glad of such a sweet and tasty treat). I pod my beans and then finely chop the outer shells which I braise until tender and then add the beans to the dish at a later stage. Sometimes I simmer the beans for a few minutes and then pop them out of their skins, but this is a rare extravagance, although it does add amazing colour.

So, the choice is yours…single pod, double pod or use the shells and beans together…it´s up to you!

Ingredients – For two hungry people as a main course or four as a starter

  • 1 cup of Spanish Paella Rice (or rice of your choice)
  • About 5-6 cups of water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
  • The braised pods from about 750 grams of broad beans (weight before preparing)
  • The blanched beans from the pods (save the cooking water if you want to keep this vegetarian)
  • About 150g asparagus cut into 1cm pieces. Reserve the tips, blanch them, drain and set aside
  • About 6 mushrooms thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil for frying

Put a few tablespoons of oil in a deep pan or pot and add the garlic, bay leaf, bean pods (if using) and asparagus stalks and fry gently until the garlic is soft. Add the rice and coat it in oil for a minute or two then add 3 cups of the stock.

Bring to the boil and cook on a medium heat until the rice starts to absorb the liquid. Add the rest of the liquid and when the rice is almost cooked add the broad beans and mushrooms. Simmer until the mushrooms are tender, season, discard the bay leaf, cover and remove from the heat. The rice needs to rest for 3-5 minutes. If during the cooking period the rice gets too dry, just add a little more liquid. Typically Arroz Caldoso (which translates as rice with broth) is served more liquid than a paella or risotto and eaten with a spoon – but you decide how you like it.

Finally, stir in the asparagus tips and serve with some fresh lemon to squeeze over.

We ate ours with the leftover pork belly which I cut into slices and dry fried to remove the fat, to heat it through and to allow it to crisp up.