The VPR Table: Un-Valentine’s Day Dinner

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Does your love for food overpower your love for Valentine’s Day romance? Marialisa introduces an Italian appetizer that’ll make your dinner date think twice before kissing you goodnight and a main course heavy enough to make your only post dinner thought "sleeeeeeep."

For a detailed anti-Valentines dinner plan, tune in for this weeks VPR Table Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

 Valentine’s Day is upon us, and culinary talk will tend toward romantic repasts of caviar and champagne — with special emphasis on those foods like oysters and chocolate that allegedly act as aphrodisiacs.
But it’s possible that, instead of fanning the flames of desire, you might be inclined to douse them. I once read an essay – I think it was by the foodwriter MFK Fisher — about how to kill passion with food. The idea was to serve your unwanted pursuer a meal designed as a soporific rather than a stimulant. A meal, as I recall, that was heavy on organ meats, big red wines, and dairy. A kind of un-Valentine dinner.
The centerpiece of my anti-passion supper would be pork belly. It’s likely that you have it on restaurant menus – it’s gotten quite trendy in recent years. Pork belly is simply uncured bacon; a streaky slab of fat and meat that can be cooked in many delicious ways. A couple of months ago, my husband and I had a fabulous meal of melt-in-your-mouth, slow-cooked pork belly, with lots of crispy, glazed bits, at Claire’s restaurant in Hardwick. We went home and slept like the dead. Had we dreamt, I can guarantee it would not have been of romance.
You can buy pork belly from local growers, co-ops and specialty markets; even the supermarket butcher might be able to get you some if you ask nicely.
A main course of pork belly might be all that it takes. if you are not actually trying to KILL your companion. But if you must have an appetizer, I would suggest the Italian dish of bagna cauda – a lethal anchovy, garlic and olive oil dip for raw vegetables. For dessert, bread pudding with whiskey sauce. Yes, You’ll be digging the grave of romance with your spoon. But I guarantee you will enjoy every bite.

 Marialisa Calta


From Chef Steven Obranovitch, Claire’s Restaurant, Hardwick, VT
Yield: 4 entree size portions

1/4 pork belly (about 3 pounds)
1 cup spice cure mix (see below)
1 quart Switchback beer
1 quart apple cider
1/2 recipe apple cranberry barbecue sauce (see below)

Cover the entire belly well, patting the cure mix into the flesh as much as possible and cover all over. Refrigerate for 3 days to a week. Turn the belly over each day. The longer it sits the more intense the flavor will be.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place belly into a pot that is about the same size as the belly and cover with beer and cider. Place in oven and cook for 1 hour. Next decrease oven to 150 degrees and cook for up to 8 hours or overnight. (Note from Steve: I have cooked belly’s for up to 12 hours with great results).

Remove belly from oven and let cool for an hour without lid. Carefully remove belly from liquid to a cutting board and cut into portions. (The braising liquid can be saved and reused for the next batch). Place portions into a cast iron pan over medium heat and sear for about 4 minutes on all sides to achieve a crispy exterior.


2 tablespoons each:
black peppercorns
anise seed
fennel seed
cumin seed
coriander seed
2 each:
star anise
cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
1/2 cup coarse Maine sea salt
1/2 cup maple sugar

In a dry skillet add all of the spices and toast over medium heat, moving them about for about 5 minutes remove from heat and transfer to a plate to cool. Grind in a spice grinder (or very clean coffee grinder) in a couple of batches and add to a bowl and mix in the salt and sugar. Use as directed


Yield: 1 quart

3 yellow onions, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
5 apples, cored, not peeled and sliced
3 garlic gloves, peeled and rough chopped
3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 star anise and 1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons each of cinnamon, allspice and clove
1 tablespoon apple cider
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

In a pot over medium heat add the oil and saute the onions for 4 minutes. Next add apples and remaining ingredients and bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove star anise and bay leaf and puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor.



4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped very fine
2 (2-ounce) cans flat anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, drained (but not rinsed) and chopped very fine
1 cup olive oil (pick one with a mild taste)
assorted raw vegetables, rinsed, trimmed and sliced (if needed), such as bell peppers, celery, fennel, and leeks, for dipping
cubed Italian bread (for dipping)
2 or 3 eggs for scrambling, at end (optional…but traditional)

Melt the butter in heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Add the garlic and cook about 4 minutes, so that it becomes limp and soft but not brown. Add the anchovies and slowly drizzle in the oil, stirring constantly for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep the mixture at a simmer, but never allow it to boil.
Serve immediately with fresh raw vegetables for dipping. If you don’t want to eat hunkered over the stove, transfer the dipping sauce to a fondue pot, chafing dish or electric skillet; the point is to keep the mixture at a simmer. If the vegetables run out, you can dip cubed pieces of bread in the mixture. When there is only a tablespoon or so left, scramble a few eggs in the mixture and complete your dinner.

Yield: about 1 and 1/2 cups, or enough to feed 4 people who love anchovies and about 400 who do not.

-Recipe from the late Oscar Calta



For the pudding:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 (12-ounce) loaf of day-old French or Italian bread
1 quart milk
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup raisins
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

For the sauce:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup bourbon

Place oven rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 350°F. With a pastry brush, spread the softened butter evenly over the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Set aside.

Prepare the pudding: Tear the bread into pieces, dropping the pieces into a bowl. Add milk. When soft, crumble the bread into small bits and continue soaking until all milk is absorbed. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar with a wire whisk or egg beater, until smooth and thick. Stir in raisins and vanilla. Pour the egg mixture over the soaked bread and stir until well combined. Pour into the prepared dish, spreading evenly.

Place the dish in larger roasting pan set on middle oven rack and pour boiling water into the larger pan to a depth of about 1 inch. Bake for 1 hour, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: Melt the butter in a pot set over medium-low heat. In a bowl, combine the sugar and egg. Add to the melted butter and cook, whisking vigorously, 2 to 3 minutes, until sugar dissolves completely and egg is cooked. (DO NOT BOIL or the egg will curdle). Remove the pot pan from the heat and let sauce cool to room temperature. Stir in bourbon.

Serve pudding directly from oven, with whiskey sauce on side.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

-Recipe from Karen "Bunny" Ziner, Providence, R.I.



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