17 February, 2009

Pork Stock, and Escarole Soup

Last week, the local Price/Rite supermarket was selling whole fresh pork picnic shoulders for 69 cents a pound - a terrific deal, and a cut of pork that I can use for a number of dishes. I try not to waste a bit of it - I even render out the skin to make crispy dog treats and use the fat for frying and for making seed cakes for the birds in my back yard.

And when all the pork is gone, I'm left with a big jointed pork bone.

Did you know that a pork bone, a bowl of mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery,) and some seasonings like black peppercorns and a couple of bayleaves will make a delicious pork stock that is almost as mild and every bit as versatile as chicken stock? It's fabulous, and easy - like many of the other stock and soup recipes I've shared here, the prep is pretty simple. You just need a few hours (on, say, a lazy Sunday afternoon) to let everything simmer to perfection.

Pork Stock
Makes about 2 quarts

1 bone and bits of trimming from a fresh pork shoulder
3 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 or two bay leaves
8 whole black peppercorns
2½ quarts of fresh, cold water

Place all ingredients in a stockpot or large Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum or foam, then reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 3 hours. The longer the simmer, the better the stock. Once the volume cooks down to about 2 quarts, add a little water now and then to maintain that level.

Strain the broth for use in cooking or soup. If you refrigerate it overnight, it's easy to remove the fat in the morning (but leave a bit in the pot for flavor.)

Some people throw away the aromatics that went into the initial broth, but I don't. I either give it to the chickens or mash it with a fork and mix it in with the dog's kibble.

Now, about that escarole soup.

Another staple from my childhood, escarole soup is one of my mom's favorites. She used to make hers with refrigerated chicken soup base, aromatics, and escarole...or sometimes Swiss chard if escarole was expensive. These days, I don't really use a lot of powdered soup base, and I thought I'd kick up the flavor a bit by using the slightly richer and more flavorful pork stock. Also, I like the "gamier" flavor of leeks in a light brothy soup like this, so I subbed a leek for my usual onion . Escarole has always been a "winter vegetable" for me, and the soup is perfect for taking the chilled edge off after a mid-morning weekend day spent raking leaves or shoveling snow. And it just so happened that my hometown produce market had gorgeous and huge heads of escarole on sale the very week that I was making pork stock from that big ol' pig leg.

This version of the soup is - with the exception of the broth - meatless. I like it as a nice light lunch or appetizer at dinner. Feel free to kick it up a bit by added white cannelloni beans or slices of good Italian sausage.

Escarole Soup
Serves 6 - 10

2 quarts pork stock
2 carrots
1 leek
2 ribs of celery
1 bay leaf
Seasonings to taste
1 head of escarole

In a stock pot or large Dutch oven, heat the pork stock to a simmer. As the stock warms, thinly slice the carrots, leek, and celery, and when it's simmering, add your sliced veggies to the stock with the bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes, then season the stock to taste with your favorite flavor enhancers (in my case, that would be Swiss Maggi and Croatian Podravka Vegeta.) Keep the heat on low.

Prepare the escarole by rinsing it well as you break off the leaves near the base. Roughly chop the leaves - just a cut or two is all that's needed - and stir the leaves into the simmering soup to wilt them well. Serve at any time after the leaves are wilted. I like them rather a bit more done than that, so I simmer the soup for ten or fifteen minutes, stirring now and then, until the escarole is cooked to my taste.

Serve in small bowls or cups as an appetizer, or in larger bowls with some nice crusty bread as a lunch.


1 comment:

Chef Kit at the Pass said...

Hey Dave, I have a recipe for escarole soup from my late ex-mother in law who was very Italian. I use good chicken stock (she used canned), and it also has the little meatballs cooked into the broth.

Your pork stock sounds heavenly, I will definitely try it!