Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pumpkin Braised Pork with Greens ~ An updated New Year's Tradition

Ringing in the year with 'good luck' dinners is a custom that goes way back. I previously told you about the German-based tradition my family follows, which features roasted pork and sauerkraut. The dish I'm making today is a variation on that theme, where the pork roast is enhanced with a pumpkin sauce for the slow cooking that ensues.  In the winter I like to make slow cooked dishes that are mostly one-pot meals. They warm the kitchen and add a fragrance to that makes your house feel like home. You can make this dish in a crock pot or in a Dutch oven.  I'll give you the subtle differences in preparation below. And if you want to add cabbage or sauerkraut you certainly can.

Julian's Pumpkin Braised Pork with Kale
Pumpkin, pork shoulder and winter curly kale make the perfect combination for meals served on cold winter days.  Until recently I haven't used pork shoulder much in my cooking.  But this Spring when it was still quite chilly I included it in an Italian sauce and served it with pasta.  The in the summer I found myself slow roasting/smoking it on the grill.  So it really is a versatile cut of meat that only requires long, slow cooking to render it tender and flavorful.

I got the idea for this recipe from a photo in Williams-Sonoma's catalog, where you can also purchase the pumpkin braising sauce pre-made if you don't mind the price.  I give you the ingredients to make it yourself, although I did try the sauce from Williams-Sonoma and it is as good as my own so don't be shy about using it if you are in a hurry.

I also made this with fresh pumpkin puree, but in the recipe below it really doesn't matter.  If you want to add fresh pumpkin and make the puree in the pot as you go, roughly follow these instructions.

Browning the pre-cut pork adds more surface for flavor.
If you haven't cooked with curly kale, give it a try.  It absorbs the flavors of the sauce and adds great color and nutrients to the dish.  It's tough, as you will see when you clean it, and as such holds up well to the cooking.

Finally, if you can get boneless pork shoulder the preparation is quick (as in 15-20 minutes).  From there it just cooks for several hours as the flavors meld and the meat becomes tender.  If you use a bone in roast, the carving and removing of the bone will add about 20 minutes to the preparation time.

Ingredients (serves 6-8 adults)
2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-2" pieces
salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion
1 1/2 cups white wine*
14 ounce can crushed tomatoes*
15 ounces pumpkin puree*
1 cup apple cider*
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar*
1-2 cups chicken stock*
pinch of brown sugar*
pinch of cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound carrots
fresh mushrooms (optional)
1 bunch curly kale

*these items are used if you are not using prepared (canned) braising sauce.

In a large heavy Dutch oven (or a skillet if you are going to use a crockpot for cooking), heat oil until very hot but not smoking.  Season the pork pieces with salt and pepper.  In small batches so the meat doesn't touch one another while cooking, quickly brown on two sides. Remember meat sticks to the surface until well browned when it naturally releases.  Do not to turn it prematurely. Remove to a bowl and repeat until all the pork is browned.

Sauce:  Peel and roughly chop the onion into large chunks.  Add the onion to the pot/skillet and cook 3-4 minutes, until beginning to soften.  If using prepared pumpkin braising sauce add it to the pot and skip to the next paragraph now.  Otherwise, add the white to the pot and deglaze the bottom scraping loose any brown bits and incorporating into the mixture. Stir in the tomatoes, pumpkin, apple cider, and cider vinegar. Cook for 2-3 minutes reducing heat to medium as the mixture begins to simmer. Add the chicken stock until you have a loose sauce that it somewhat watery.  This will cook down during the long cooking period and become more thick. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and taste. Adjust spices as needed for your taste. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and stir to combine.

Braise:  Cut the carrots into 2 inch or so chunks.  Wash the mushrooms.  Add the browned pork into the sauce along with half the carrots and half the mushrooms.  Stir to combine.  Place the Dutch Oven in a 325F oven or place the mixture into the crock pot set on high and cover.  Cook for 3-4 hours, until the meat is tender.  It will cook more quickly in the Dutch Oven.  Check for moisture content several times while cooking. If necessary add water to maintain a sauce consistency.  After the pork has cooked for 2 hours, add the remaining carrots and mushrooms.

Clean the kale by tearing off the leaf portions into 1-2" pieces.  Discard the tough stems. Approximately 20 minutes from serving time, stir in the kale. Serve with mashed potatoes or French bread for dipping. There will be some sauce that may be used for gravy on the potatoes, or simply plate the potatoes and place the braised pork over them.

Julian's Pumpkin Braised Pork Shoulder with winter Greens

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