February 16, 2017

Dear friends,

You didn’t think I was going to go cold turkey on Cuban food, did you? After a month of mojo roast pork, spicy empanadas, fried plantains and Cuban sandwiches in Florida, I returned to Ohio with a gorgeously tanned husband (he won’t heed my warnings about skin cancer) and a serious craving for Cuban food.

My Cuban cookbooks don’t address the kind of slow-cooked mojo-marinated pork roasts made at my favorite Florida Cuban restaurant, Pipo’s, so I looked on line and found the ultimate recipe at — of course — Serious Eats. I wish I could stop stealing Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipes, but they are so good and so “last word” that to create my own version would be silly.

Perfection doesn’t come easy, of course. The roast must cook a total of six hours, although the hands-on work is done in minutes. Time must be allowed for marinating, too, so I suggest you start the recipe the day before serving, as I did.

For the garlicky marinade, unless you have access to sour Seville oranges, buy a couple of oranges and limes and juice them yourself to get that sweet-tart citrus flavor. The marinade also includes ground cumin, lots of garlic and fresh oregano, which I didn’t have and didn’t want to buy. I provide directions for substituting dried.

The roast is wrapped in foil and baked at a low temperature for three hours. Then the foil is pulled back, the temperature raised slightly and the roast cooked three more hours to crisp the exterior. Make this on a day when you settle in for a marathon TV or reading session.

At our house, while the meat cooked Tony studied for his citizenship test which, post-election, he decided he should finally take. (He calls Woodrow Wilson “Woody,” and at one point I heard him mumbling rapidly under his breath, “Who’s the daddy, who’s the daddy, who’s the daddy.”)

Me: Are you saying, “Who’s your daddy?”
Tony: No, who’s THE daddy. Of the United States.
Me (after a long pause): You mean the father of our country?? George Washington?
Tony: Yes, the daddy.

Later, wiser and starving, we tucked into the pork roast, cilantro rice and a side of sautéed broccoli rabe. The meat was…well, I’ll let Lopez-Alt describe it: ”Juicy, succulent with garlic and citrus, intensely porky, and melt-in-your-mouth tender.”

Exactly.

CUBAN ROAST PORK WITH MOJO MARINADE

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For the mojo:

8 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh oregano leaves (I used 2 tbsp. dry)
1/2 cup fresh juice from 1 to 2 oranges
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (or 3/4 cup blood orange juice instead of the orange and lime juices)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

For the pork and to finish:

1 (6- to 8-lb.) boneless pork shoulder roast, rind removed (I used a 4-lb. roast)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (I substituted fresh cilantro)
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano leaves (I subbed 2 tsp. dried)
Lime wedges for serving
Steamed rice

For the mojo, combine garlic, cumin pepper, oregano, orange and lime juices and olive oil in a small bowl of lidded jar and mix well. Season to taste generously with salt. Pour half of the mojo over a pork roast in a zipper-sealed plastic bag. Squish with hands to coat meat evenly. Refrigerate to marinate at least 2 hours or, ideally, overnight. Refrigerate remaining mojo.

For the pork and to finish: When meat is finished marinating, reheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Place pork and juice on top and fold up foil, crimping to seal loosely but making sure there is room for air to circulate inside. Place in oven and roast for 3 hours.

Increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Fold back foil and continue roasting, basting pork with pan juices occasionally, until pork shows almost no resistance when a metal skewer or knife is inserted and the surface is crackly and brown 2 to 3 hours longer. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Pour one cup of accumulated pork drippings into a bowl, discarding any left over. Add the reserved mojo and whisk with into, oregano and salt to taste. Slice or shred pork and arrange on dinner plates with the lime wedges and rice. Moisten the meat with some of the mojo sauce, passing the rest at the table. My 4-pound roast made at least 6 servings.
THE MAILBAG
From Fran F.:
Several years ago we spent a week in Rome and had a to-die-for spaghetti carbonara with pancetta. I have been looking ever since returning home for a good restaurant in the Akron area that makes a great spaghetti carbonara.

I have tried to make it at home and cannot get that same intense, creamy Parmesan flavor that we had, despite using Parmesan Reggiani and pancetta purchased from DeViti’s. What would make the difference in flavor? If any of your readers knows of a great place that makes the dish, I hope they will share.

Dear Fran: I can’t think of any restaurants that have spaghetti carbonara on the menu. It is such a simple but wonderful dish. I hope someone has a suggestion.

Meanwhile, I consulted an old, authentic Italian cookbook recommended to me years ago by chef Roger Thomas, who studied in Italy. Could the secret to great carbonara be lard? That’s what Ada Boni uses in her recipe in “Italian Regional Cooking.” Boni also makes the dish with streaky bacon, although that may have been a sop to Americans, and uses the drippings in the sauce. She makes the dish with rigatoni but notes any pasta shape may be substituted. An interesting fact: She calls carbonara “charcoal-burner’s style.”

RIGATONI ALA CARBONARA

4 tsp. lard
5 oz. streaky bacon, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt
1 1/4 lbs. rigatoni
5 eggs
5 tbsp. freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
5 tbsp. freshly grated imported Pecorino cheese
Pepper

In a small sauté pan, heat the lard and sauté the bacon and garlic. As soon as the garlic is browned, discard it. Bring a large pan of salted water to a bubbling boil. Add the rigatoni and cook until tender but still firm.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs thoroughly in a large, shallow skillet with a pinch of salt, the cheeses and plenty of fresh-ground pepper. Do not heat.

As soon as the rigatoni are tender, drain them and add to the pan with the egg mixture. Add the bacon with its cooking fat, then cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes to heat the eggs through. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

From Nancy S.:
I know I read some time ago that you buy your seeds locally and I’m thinking it was someplace in the Valley? Please share!

Hi, Nancy: I buy heirloom plants — not seeds — at Crown Point Ecology Center’s annual sale on the farm in Bath. Check the website (www.crownpt.org) for details. The sale is usually held in May.

A couple of years ago I discovered an interesting seed store in Amish country. Berlin Seeds (no website; Google the store name) in Millersburg has fair prices and a wide basic selection of seeds. A plus is free planting advice from the clerk/owners.

For heirloom vegetable seeds, I have ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com), although many other great mail-order sources exist. I’d like to know which companies others have used.

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