THRIVING ON NEGLECT
I believe there are a few great points of clarity in a man’s life. Awakenings that make all of the days’ variables fall neatly into clicking patterns, creating a feeling less like drowning in bullshit and more like living in a neatly organized solar system of bullshit. Everything in its place, even the floating turd spheres. I clearly must be on the verge of one of these moments because right now I feel like a hyperactive kid running a weasel farm and the furry little bastards have just decided to revolt. I’m all fucking scattered.
Rather than the usual curing/brewing/gardening projects going on, I’ve got a series of squeaking nubs, half-assed half-starts and artifacts of well-intentioned beginnings that have ended inevitably in neglect. And under all this layer of clutter are the tried and true acts of daily living and relaxation that get an at-best glazed over wave of the hand. My winter garden limps along as a testament to the hardiness of arugula and chard. I can’t remember the last time I made pasta. A thoughtful, well-timed dinner on a weeknight? Forget about it. And I’ve been bemoaning the lack of good pancetta in my larder—all because I can’t seem to get around to salting a piece of meat and then letting it hang there unattended for a month.
This last point is not for lack of trying. I recently bought two pretty nice pieces of pork belly for just that purpose. A week of workdays, day-to-day house maintenance evenings, attempts at functional parenting and “Aw, fuck it I’m tired” nights later, and my piggy was on the verge of chemistry set territory. To be clear, it hadn’t turned, but an extra week in the fridge during curing didn’t sound like a good idea.
So I brined and smoked it, not being entirely sure what do with the finished product. In the process I ambled around over to the garden for my weekly “Oh yeah, I planted some stuff and should probably check in on it” version of gardening. I noticed some arugula that had grown pretty big—clearly too hot for a salad. The stuff has a great flavor, deep nuttiness, but it finishes basically like pure horseradish. Just spicy as a bastard. Like something that would be muted nicely by smokey pork fat.
The wheels turned, universe oriented ever so slightly and I had a decent vision of what to do, if only for dinner. Pasta was made, pork belly was pureed and mixed with a little ricotta and arugula was made into a rather nice pesto with some toasted pecans and good quality olive oil.
The smoked pork belly ravioli are pretty damn great—oozy fatty and intense little bites that sort of melt when you get into them. I liked them so much I stayed up late making quite a few of them for the freezer. They taste even better at 1am. I cooked them up with a little emulsified butter and Sriracha and it’s a perfectly viable option. You know, if you’re into the coating pork fat with butter sort of thing. And at 1am, eating straight out of a sauté pan and feeling pretty good over a neatly stacked row of fresh pasta, I am. Take that, weasels.
Smoked Pork Belly Ravioli
1lb fresh pork belly
Brine (water, salt, brown sugar, juniper, garlic, coriander, black pepper)
Brine the pork belly over night. Get your smoker going at about 200. Season the belly with extra pepper and smoke it for about 4 hours. Let it cool and puree it in a food processor until it’s a smooth consistency. Mix in the ricotta at about a 2:1 pork to cheese ratio. Roll out your pasta and make ravioli. I kept these pretty small because of the richness of the pork fat and fullness of the smoke, they make really nice intense singular bites.
Several leaves arugula
1 garlic clove
Good olive oil
Mix all in a food processor and blend, add the olive oil as needed. Dress pasta quickly in the pan, off heat, without cooking the pesto, just warming it.