Greek Pork and Beans

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We had quite the cold spell a while back, so I during it I felt the need to make a one-pot, stick-to-your-ribs kind of stew. And what better cuisine from which to choose than Greek. It’s often the direction I take for satisfying and comforting dishes, like pastitsio and moussaka.

For these times, I refer to an old cookbook, called Flavors of Greece, published in 1991, and authored by Rosemary Barron. And in it I found exactly what I was looking for – a Greek version of pork and beans.

The beans in this dish are giant white Lima beans, and the meat includes pork shoulder, bacon, and sausage.

The bean and pork components are layered, then topped with a thick bread crumb and Parmesan crust. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a giant cassoulet!

Here’s the recipe.

Traditional Pork and Bean Casserole
Khirino´ Khoria´tiko

1 1/2 pounds dried butter beans, soaked overnight
3 pounds boneless lean pork shoulder
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced pastourma´s ham or bacon
3 cups chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup red wine
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, diced, juices reserved
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons ground coriander
5 whole cloves
4 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 – 1 1/2 cups meat stock
1/2 country sausages
1 cup fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup kasse´ri cheese or Parmesan

Cook and drain the soaked beans. I cooked mine in chicken stock. Set aside.

Cut the pork into 1” cubes. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet and lightly brown half the meat over medium heat. Repeat with the remaining meat.



Add the bacon and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, cook 1 minute longer, and add the red wine. Bring to a boil and boil a minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes with their juices, honey, oregano, coriander, cloves, juniper berries, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add 1 cup of the stock and simmer 5 minutes longer.

Add the meat, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes longer; add stock if there appears to be less than 2 cups of sauce. Season to taste. The sauce should be highly flavored.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Slice the sausages into 1/2” thick slices and combine with the beans.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the bottom of a heavy casserole and cover with one third of the sausages and beans. Cover with a layer of half the meat mixture, then half the remaining beans, then the remaining meat. Top with a layer of the remaining beans.

With the back of a wooden spoon, gently press down on the beans so some of the sauce rises to the surface.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese on top.

Sprinkle with the remaining olive oil, cover, and bake 45 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake 1 1/2 hours longer, until a golden crust has formed.

Remove the casserole lid and bake 10 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden brown.

I let the casserole sit for at least 45 minutes, without the lid, before serving.

Even though I used a large/wide Le Creuset for this casserole, it was so thick I wasn’t sure how to serve it up!


For the sake of this post, I cut out a square so the layers would show.

The casserole is quite stunning. And the flavors are just what you’d expect. Tomatoes, herbs, meat – a lovely, rustic meal.

And the meat is extremely tender.

Note: The recipe also included dried marjoram and winter savory — neither of which I had.

Lamb Burger

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Recently I re-read the cookbook, “How to Roast a Lamb, by Michael Psilakis. I read it originally when I first bought it, in 2009 according to Amazon.

My modus operandi is to read a new cookbook, then put on the shelf. When I have more time, I re-read it, with my little sticky notes on hand to mark recipes, even if 8 years have passed. I might own too many cookbooks when I can “lose” a cookbook that easily.

What I hadn’t remembered about “How to Roast a Lamb,” is that it is one of the best written cookbooks ever, in my humble opinion. Not the recipes; they’re kind of a mess.

Michael Psilakis is Greek-American, who although born in the United States, didn’t speak English until entering first grade. Just like the family in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” his was large and sometimes loud, but there was love, and there was food.

In the introduction, Michael tells the fascinating story of how his rise to chef and restaurant owner began, with fateful events allowing major opportunities in his life.

In spite of some rebellious years during his teens, Michael always made it home for dinner.

“It was clear to me that missing one night of family dinner would not make my mother angry, but, far worse, it would wound her in a way that would cause her pain in the depths of her soul. To miss one of those dinners would signify to her that whoever else I was doing was more important than she was, more important than my family, and more important than her singular wish to keep us together.”

Michael Psilakis’s stories that precede each chapter beautifully describe the love and respect he had for his family growing up, and his mother’s passion for food and cooking that he inherited.

Lamb Burger
Bifteki Arniou
Makes 2 burgers (I doubled the recipe)

2 – 1/4″ thick slices sweet onion
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
7 ounces ground lamb
3 ounces ground pork
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill (I omitted dill)
1 scallion, green part only, finely chopped (I used chives)
1 tablespoon garlic purée (I used 1/2 roasted head of garlic)
About 2 ounces pork caul fat
2 slices onion, grilled, to top the burgers
2 kaiser rolls

Brush the onion slices with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. On a hot grill pan, grill until tender. Separate the onion into rings and chop fine.

In a bowl, combine the chopped grilled onion, lamb, pork, mustard, coriander, parsley, dill, scallion, and garlic purée.

Season liberally with salt and pepper. With clean hands, combine the mixture evenly and divide in half. (I made four burgers.)

Place a 4-5″ ring mold on a clean work surface. Lay a piece of caul fat over the top with a few inches overhanging all around. Place half the lamb mixture in the center and press down to form a thick, flattened disk.

I simply did the same thing without using a ring mold.

Wrap the overhanging caul fat up and over the top, overlapping a bit but trimming off extra bits and pieces. Smooth the caul fat so that it is flat to the surface. Repeat to make the second burger, and place them on a piece of parchment. (Remember I made four burgers!)

Preheat a cast-iron skillet until hot. Brush the burgers lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the side with the caul fat down first, grill, and turn over untl firm and char-marked on both sides, to your desired doneness.

My burgers were cooked to medium-rare, although you can’t tell from this photo, but of course they can be cooked longer.

And being an American, I had ketchup on hand.

Don’t roll your eyes, I actually ate the burger with only a little Dijon mustard. It was way too good to smother with ketchup of course!

These lamb burgers were really incredible. I can’t imagine them tasting any more delicious. The roasted garlic addition was probably not too far off of the chef’s garlic purée, which is a purée of garlic confit.

There was one mistake, where cumin and fennel are supposed to be included in the lamb mixture, I’m assuming, because they were listed in the ingredient list, but omitted in the directions.

If you’re wondering how I got my hands on pork fat caul, it is because of a website I’d recently discovered, called Heritage Foods USA. It’s also where I got my ground lamb; my local store’s situation with lamb is hit-and-miss, but mostly miss.

It is a unique experience working with the lacy caul. It looks so delicate but don’t let its dainty looks fool you!

Pastitsio

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My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

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Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

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When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

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Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
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Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
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Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

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If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
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