I cook him meat. He cooks me carbs. I knew we were meant to be. This Valentine's Day, J-Cat and I decided on a collaborative dinner, which really is more romantic than any meal we've had on previous Valentine's Days, even if we never bothered setting a table or, um, turning off the TV to eat it.
And is there a more romantic cut of meat than pork cheeks? Pork Cheeks is going to be my new pet name for J-Cat. And gnocchi. That's a sweet word, too. So here I give you - Pork Cheek Ragu with Truffled Polenta Gnocchi.
I got a couple pork cheeks with our pork CSA, which made me decide on the pork cheek ragu. But I only had two cheek medallions, so I went up to my friendly neighborhood totally awesome butcher and asked for some more. They very kindly pulled some pig heads out of the walk in and sliced them off for me. Now that's romantic!
And the gnocchi. Well, J-Cat has lately been OBSESSED with gnocchi. Cooking it, not just eating it. He made gnocchi three times in two weeks. Mostly he was focusing on gnudi, the riccota-based gnocchi, so I thought this would be a nice change. The polenta gnocchi had a lovely grainy texture and were delightfully crisp from a pan saute. The addition of a splash of truffle oil in the dough brought the indulgence to a new level.
This recipe tasted luxurious, rich, and so so savory, but was actually the ultimate in rustic, inexpensive peasant food. The pork cheeks (a very affordable and tasty cut) cooked low and slow and fell apart into deeply flavorful, tender chunks. Set atop the crisp truffled gnocchi, this dish was everything you want in comfort food, with a bit of a fancy twist. And yes, that is one giant bowl that we both ate out of. Awwww.
PORK CHEEK RAGU WITH TRUFFLED POLENTA GNOCCHI
Adapted from a recipe by Chef Travis Hyde, Z Cucina Ristorante, Columbus, OH.
1½ cups semolina
1½ cups cornmeal
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. truffle oil
to taste, salt and pepper
Pork Cheek Ragu:
1 medium sweet onion, julienne
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 lb. pork cheek medallions
10 cremini mushrooms, quartered
1½ cups chianti wine
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
to taste, salt and pepper
to garnish, Parmesan cheese
For gnocchi: Combine cornmeal and semolina. Bring liquids to a simmer and add truffle oil to bloom flavor; add seasoning. Slowly whisk in dry mix until completely incorporated and mix until it begins to pull away from sides of pan. Pour onto tabletop surface dusted with semolina to prevent sticking. Allow to cool for 10 minutes until you can work with it. (The warmer the polenta, the easier to roll out cylinders to cut gnocchi.) Sprinkle a baseball-size piece of polenta with semolina and roll into a cylinder about ¾" diameter. Cut into ½" pieces and dust with semolina before placing on parchment-covered sheet pan.
For pork cheek ragu: Sweat the onion in 1 Tbsp. oil until tender. Add garlic and bloom. Season, then add cheeks and raise heat to caramelize them a little, along with onions. Add vinegar and allow to reduce by half. Add wine, tomatoes, herbs and mushrooms; reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer for 1 hour. Cook until pork cheeks just start to fall apart. Season with salt and pepper and mix in last Tbsp. oil.
To compose dish: Heat extra virgin olive oil to medium high; add gnocchi, making sure to coat in oil so they do not stick to pan. Allow to brown and crisp on sides; toss for 4-5 minutes on heat. Pull off heat and place in bowl. Ladle ragu over gnocchi and sprinkle with shaved Parmesan. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil if desired.