I’ve been wanting to braise pork all winter, and thanks to inspiration from brooklyn supper’s recent post and a psychic moment with my roommate, we finally made it happen. Holy shit. We are planning an entire year of menus around braised pork. It’s insanely, unbelievably good. It’s silence at the dinner table while we glut ourselves good.
The nettles add a nice green note and a little texture and color but the tender, savory pork is undeniably the star of this meal. The gnocchi is a great vehicle for sauce, meat and greens. And the sauce was made simply by thickening the braising juices. Although it requires a four-hour time commitment, much of that can be spent lazing around hungrily, developing a huge appetite while the meat works toward falling apart at the slightest provocation. It’s ridiculously easy given the impressive results.
A Note About Nettles: On a summer vacation when we were kids, my sister took a running jump off a deck into a patch of stinging nettles. The adults looked on in horror, probably screaming “Stephy!” in helplessness as she plummeted to sure pain in that deceptively fluffy patch of green. Needless to say, it cemented a healthy fear of nettles in me. You don’t want to handle raw nettles with your bare hands. Use gloves for rinsing, chopping and handling and make sure they are cooked thoroughly so that no errant stingers make their way down your gullet. Once cooked, however, they are completely benign.
Gnocchi with Braised Pork and Nettles
1 pound pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
2 cups dry white wine
1 onion, sliced into eighths
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. juniper berries
4 sprigs fresh sage
ample salt and pepper
1 Tbs flour
1/2 cup goat cheese
4 ounces fresh nettles (or spinach), rough chop (use gloves!)
1 pound gnocchi
Heat a stove-safe casserole dish or dutch oven over a medium-high flame. Add oil; when it shimmers, add the pork. Sear pork thoroughly on all sides. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Stir, allowing the onions to soften a little. Reduce heat to very low; add the wine and scrape the bottom of the dish. Add the herbs and generous amounts of salt and pepper. (I never remember to measure this.) Cover and let simmer for a minimum of 3 hours. (Ours was falling-apart tender at 3.5 hours.) Flip the meat every half hour or so.
When your pork is ready, remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain and reserve the braising liquid and discard vegetables and herbs.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil for gnocchi. While the water is coming to a boil, steam-saute the nettles in a pan over medium heat with a lid until wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Once the pork has cooled enough to touch, shred into bite-size pieces.
Follow the directions for cooking times precisely with the gnocchi – some require as little as thirty seconds to be done and they’re easily overcooked. When done, drain and then return to pot.
Return braising liquid to pot set over medium-low heat. Slowly whisk in flour and blend thoroughly. Crumble the goat cheese into the sauce and when it begins to melt, stir to blend. Turn off heat.
To the pot with the gnocchi, add the nettles, shredded pork and sauce and stir frugally, enough to combine everything. Plate and serve!