Saturday, June 14, 2014

World Cups and Kotlovina

The 2014 World Cup kicked off this Thursday with a rousing and questionably refereed game between Croatia and Brazil. In our house, and in our church, too, come to think of it, the World Cup ushers in about a month of excited conversation, sporadic shouts of glee or frustration, and general Football craze. It is all very lively and lovely indeed, and to make certain I do not completely abandon the sporting festivities, the Raimundo household began a fun little tradition last World Cup of following the Football schedule as our eating plan. I get to cook the foods of the countries playing any given day, we get a little geographical, gastronomical, and cultural education, and everyone gets to enjoy the World Cup as a family. Splendid solution, do you not agree?

We decided to cook Croatian for the first game, and after some internet browsing and cookbook searching, I decided to try my hand at Kotlovina, a dish named for the pot-pan-spidergrillthing in which it is traditionally prepared. When Wikipedia (oh, my Wiki!) described Kotlovina as a pork knuckle stew, there was no doubt as to what we were eating Thursday night.

Kotlovina it was. But I would need pork for this meal, specifically joints, bones, chops, and sausage (I ended up nixing the sausage). Alas, the Raimundos are currently awaiting the arrival of our next half-pig from Skye Ridge Farm, so we resorted to The Organic Butcher in McLean, the next best place to buy pork in our area. An early morning call assured me there would be some succulent bones calling my name, plus a few Polyface chops which were on their way for fresh afternoon delivery. Honestly, the shopkeeper and I were mutually impressed the other knew what Polyface was. Anyway, some hours later found me soaking wet in their darling little hole in the wall, where I stumbled (I know, I'm a klutz) across some deliciously green and organic Brussels sprouts. These bright sweet cabbage-looking things are some of Jenn's favourite vegetables, and the organic kinds are a treasure to come by. Needless to say, they joined the pork on the wooden purchasing block in a heartbeat. Supper was cooking itself before my eyes!

The vehicle I was driving somehow delivered me safely home amidst torrents of rain and loud music, then I grabbed the camera, did a jig, and started cooking. My research had offered me a handful of Kotlovina recipes from which to choose; they were mostly similar, but some were more stewed and some were more fried and some were more starched and some were more veggied. You know what I mean. You also know that Jenn finds it insurmountably difficult to leave a recipe alone, so you can imagine what three recipes left me cooking. This is what happened:

Kotlovina, or, A dish from a certain part of Croatia that I can't remember the name of

Two pork shanks
Two 2-inch bone-in pork chops, a little bit more than a pound's worth
Three onions, sliced
One stalk of celery, sliced
One green or red sweet pepper, julienned
Two large ripe tomatoes, sliced
Five cloves garlic, sliced
One tablespoon paprika
A dash of hot paprika or red pepper flakes, to your liking
Two teaspoons ground mustard
Two or three cloves
A few fennel seeds
One crumbled bay leaf
A toss of the following spices: sage, oregano, thyme, parsley (we like a generous quantity of oregano)
A half cup of white wine or broth.
Real Salt, to your liking

Whew! That looks long written out, but it took me no time to throw all the seasonings in. Honest.
Since whatever Kotlovina is usually made in is usually made out of cast-iron, I used our cast-iron skillet to make the meal more authentic and to make clean-up afterwards a breeze. Double delight.

Thy pork marinates
Before cooking, season the pork with salt and pepper and let it marinade for a few hours.

Thy vegetables are chopped
But when it comes time to cook, the first task is to chop thine vegetables. You know how the Food Network people make meals in minutes? That's right. They chop all their vegetables first. I slice the onions last so the chemicals have the least time to make me cry, and by the time my onions are slicing, my pork is browning in a medium-high heat skillet. 

Thy chops are browned
Get the pork nicely browned on all sides until it smells tantalising and not burnt (you can slice your onions now). Between the skin and fat from the shanks and chops, I did not need to add any fat to accomplish the browning. However, your pork might need some help. I trust you to make the call. Once beautifully browned, remove the meat from your skillet and add the onions. Sprinkle a smidgen of salt on the onions and let them become translucent. 

Thine onions await
Proceed to toss in the rest of your vegetables and seasonings. Cook everything down a bit and stop to smell the flavors combining in a happy dance. Here's where you add your broth and/or wine. Whoosh! Don't you love that part? Your vegetables should start melting into a gorgeous mash which will serve as the perfect bed for your pork. 

The vegetables mash (and their steam gets in the way of pictures)
Thy meal is ready
Put the pork to sleep in the skillet, turn the heat down to a lulling low, and cover the skillet with a decently-fitted-lid-that-didn't-come-with-the-cast-iron. The meat should take about thirty minutes to thoroughly cook into a tender rosy gray. During this time, you may add some more broth to maintain the dish's proper mushy consistency. Then it is finished! Serve with roasted potatoes or rice and a vegetable side, such as...

They're green. They're cute. What could go wrong? 
Pan Seared Brussels Sprouts

One package of organic Brussels Sprouts, about three or four cups? I don't really know.
Pork drippings and snippings
Three garlic cloves, chopped
Water or broth
Salt and Pepper

Wash the sprouts and heat a pan to medium-high. Throw in the porky goodness and let it sweat a bit, then add your Brussels to the party and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss the veggies around for a bit to make sure they brown but don't stick. Eventually you will need to add some water or broth so they can keep on softening without burning. About five minutes before serving, throw in the garlic and stir everything around. I truly wanted to avoid burning anything, so these Brussels sprouts took about twenty minutes to cook. After all, they are basically sweet little cabbage-cabbages.

And after
Hope you enjoy the food! I wonder for which countries we will be cooking in the final. Hmm...

P.S. This is the third time the Indiana Jones main theme has played since I began writing the post. I almost feel like Wagner would be a relief. Almost.

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