Here was the situation the other night; I was without a car and the pantry was down to the dregs. When I say dregs, I am talking about what I call the last bits and pieces of what I think one would need to scrounge up some sort of dinner. I am pretty sick of hearing myself say this, but here we go again: if you have what you consider the bare necessities on hand in your kitchen you can always come up with something to put an evening meal together.
Well, what did I have on hand in my pantry? What I didn’t have was anything green save for the rosemary plant I was nursing through the winter freeze on a sill in the kitchen, or anything quick cooking like eggs or a piece of chicken, fish or even any canned sardines (which I almost always have hidden somewhere – they are great with a bit of red sauce and pasta and pepper flakes in a pinch!).
What I did have was a big hunk of pork (which I found in the freezer and set out to defrost; Lesson 1 – have a hunk of meat in the freezer at all times) along with three ingredients I deem essential if you want to build something from nothing; garlic, onions and olive oil. These are things that last forever and even the saddest looking onion is worth saving. The other thing that comes to my rescue is a modest stash of spices, salts and a few select dried herbs and greens like good bay leaves and maybe a jar of Herbs de Provence, (I am not a fan of large collections of dried herbs and spices sitting on the counter in a big carousel, or neat jars in rows over the stove – most of this stuff shrivels up and looses flavor before you have a chance to use it – a few keys things stored in a dark cupboard is a much better idea and less wasteful).
The only thing in this ingredient list that wasn’t something that I normally have on hand in the winter were the plum tomatoes. They had been sitting in the kitchen for several days, leftover from a salsa that I didn’t end up making. I threw them into the dish just to use them up and they were perfect (and sort of substituted for my lack of a vegetable!). So, if you get a pantry in order filled with the things that appeal to you, there will be no panic if you find yourself a prisoner in your own home!
You will need:
3 tbs olive oil
3 1/2 lbs pork loin, cut into big chunks
3 medium sweet onions, halved and sliced
4 to 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 celery ribs, sliced
4 or so sprigs fresh thyme
1 small spring fresh rosemary
1 tbs hot Hungarian paprika OR 1/2 smoked 1/2 hot OR 1/2 sweet 1/2 hot paprika (any combo will work)
4 or 5 Roma tomatoes, halved
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (OR good quality stock cube and 6 cups water – *If your stock cube is very mild, use two for full flavor)
Preheat oven 300*
1 – Season pork with good quality salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put saute pan on high heat and add the oil. When it is very hot sear the meat in batches on all sides. transfer to a deep casserole or straight-sided pan as you go.
2 – Turn heat down to medium/low and add a little more oil if you need to. Add the onions, garlic and celery and saute for about 3 minutes before adding the fresh herbs. Continue to cook, stirring frequently for another 3 or so minutes.
3 – Add the paprika and stir into the veggies. If you are using a stock cube add it now. Stir lightly for about a minute.
4 – Add the liquid (stock or water) and turn heat up to high. Add the meat and when the mixture comes to a boil add the halved tomatoes, halved side down (this helps keep the skin in tact!). taste a little of the juices and adjust salt and pepper to your taste .
5 – Place in oven and cook for 3 hours or until meat is very tender.
Serve with whatever you like; rice, spaghetti, pici pasta, fresh crusty bread, and sautéed greens. The sauce is great with any of the above.