Winning garlic dish worthy of cook’s prized cache

My garden is giving up a bounty of produce, so much that I’ve had to devise simple strategies for preserving it, simply because we can’t consume it all fresh.

Recent additions to my Facebook page’s Cooking From the Garden album show some of last week’s mini preservation projects: quick-pickled peppers and olive oil-preserved eggplant, adapted from a previous post to this blog that explains the process with zucchini. I’ve also been tossing tomatoes into simmering water to peel and then packing the fruits into freezer bags whenever I get the chance.

Fortunately for the sake of my sanity, there’s always at least one crop that doesn’t live up to expectations. This year, it was garlic.

My mother-in-law decided several years back to dedicate raised-bed space to this long-season crop after our inaugural harvest. The flavor was incomparable to any we could buy, and the yield was enough to keep both our households in garlic almost year-round.

This year’s crop wasn’t nearly so fruitful, having inexplicably suffered some sort of mildew or other fungal damage. There were enough juicy, pungent heads to enjoy for a few months, but not long past the warm weather, particularly if I keep using it in pickling solutions and the eggplant spread known as baba ghanoush.

But using the garlic I am. Perish the thought of losing some to sprouting, as I have in more abundant years.

Garlic lovers who read in last week’s A la Carte about the famed festival in Gilroy, Calif., may have hoped for recipes. We didn’t have space to run them, but here is one that moved with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s story. It’s adapted from the 2012 Gilroy Garlic Festival top prize winner “Crispy Pork Belly With Caramelized Onion and Fig Agrodolce and Creamy Polenta” by Laureen Pittman of Riverside, Calif.

Pork belly is a favorite in restaurant kitchens but not so easy for the home cook to find. So the Journal-Constitution substituted a fresh ham steak and gave it a similar treatment to pork belly. Note this recipe uses fresh, uncured ham — the cut from the back end of the ham, not the smoked, cured ham served at Easter.

Boston butt also could be used, or for a quicker version, substitute pork tenderloin, sliced into medallions and seared with garlic, then finished in a hot oven.

MCT photo

Crispy Pork With Fig Chutney and Creamy Polenta

3 pounds boneless fresh ham steak

1 head garlic, cloves separated and unpeeled

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided

1 cup whole milk

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1 1⁄2 cups polenta or coarse yellow cornmeal

1⁄4 cup heavy cream

1⁄4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for searing pork

1 large onion, peeled and chopped (about 1 1⁄2 cups)

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed

7 ounces dried figs, tough stems discarded and chopped

1⁄2 cup balsamic vinegar

1⁄2 cup dry red wine

1⁄2 cup apple juice

1⁄2 cup honey

1 teaspoon chopped, fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 275 F. Place the ham in a small roasting pan. Add cloves from the whole head of garlic and 4 cups of the broth, adding only enough broth to just cover meat. Depending on size of pan, you may not need all 4 cups. If you need more liquid, add water. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake in preheated oven for 4 hours or until meat is completely tender. Remove from oven and allow ham to cool in liquid for 1 hour.

While ham is cooling, make polenta. In a large saucepan, combine remaining 2 cups broth, the milk and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat slightly and add the polenta or cornmeal in a thin stream, stirring continuously. When all polenta or cornmeal has been added, reduce heat to low and simmer polenta 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano and keep warm.

While polenta is cooking, making fig chutney. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender. Add the minced or pressed garlic and cook, stirring continuously, for 30 seconds. Stir in the figs, vinegar, wine, apple juice, honey and rosemary and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and syrupy, for 30 minutes. Keep warm.

When ready to serve, remove pork from broth and set aside. Discard broth.

Heat a large skillet over high heat and film with olive oil. Divide pork into 8 portions and sear top and bottom of each portion.

While pork is browning, divide polenta between serving plates. Top with seared pork. Divide fig chutney between serving plates and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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