Holidays are good for people. This is my first one since approximately 2011, and I am astonished at how happy I am. I am on holiday, and walking to pubs and cooking on an AGA and rejoicing in having a garden all to ourselves, a garden with vegetables and tadpoles and a climbing-tree. We have been to the market, and been writing, and drawing, and buying pulp novels, and exploring in the woods, and the Tall Man and I are both scratched and burned and bitten gloriously, and we have got two good stout sticks resting outside for walking tomorrow.
But tonight the wind is whistling around the chimney stacks, and the blue tits in the bird boxes are tucked up tight, and the Tall Man bought a good big bit of pig from the local butcher, and I went out into the garden at dusk with the orange kitchen scissors and came back with the pockets of my new yellow mac bulging with green things and herbs, and this is what we cooked. It isn’t very original, maybe. But it is good, and I am extremely happy. I think holidays suit me. I think country air suits me. My heart is at home here, and I am at home here, and I should leave London more often, and that is the moral of this story. We should all leave London more often. We should all buy new wellies, and get them filthy, and we should all grow green things and eat them gleefully by the fistful, and we should all watch blue tits build nests, and learn. These are the morals of this story.
Please note yellow wellies newly christened by a quick tumble into the brook.
Serves two, with leftovers
-Three stems of woody rosemary, straight off the bush.
-A good fist of sea salt
-A good twist of black peppercorns
-A splashish of mild olive oil
-A fair-sized lump of pig, skin on, and scored by the butcher. (You can do this yourself, if you do not have a friendly butcher, as per this recipe here)
-A colander full of green things. This is roughly equivalent to two pocketfuls, but should look like an astonishing amount. You will confidently assume you could feed at least double with it. You can’t. Green things shrink.
We had about one quarter kale, one quarter chard, and half purple sprouting broccoli, leaves attached. Also possibly some other leaves that were growing near them. I am not nearly as good at this as I pretend to be.
-A fistful of garlic cloves
-One fat onion
-Half a glass of white wine
You need to make first what the Tall Man calls “rosemary lichen”, and I, Anne-Shirley like, call “marsh dust”, which has nothing to do with marshes, but looks as if it should: it requires three sprigs of very fresh rosemary, a handful of sea salt, some ground black pepper, and time. A mezzeluna is helpful, if you have one (we don’t). Lay the rosemary out; strip the leaves from the woody stems, and discard the stems (you can use them to flavour stews, thrifty bones). Take a sharp knife. Rock the knife back and forth over the rosemary, grinding it, ever so gently, into an impossibly fine powder, repeated motion, repeat, repeat. It will come up a beautiful mossy green. Stir through sea salt, black pepper. Note the crystals. This is worth knowing how to do alone: this is an excellent condiment to have just at table.
Rub this marsh dust into the bit of pig, using if you like a little olive oil to help it along. Let it settle in all the pleasing scores and crevices of the pig skin. Pop the pig into an oven tray that fits it as precisely as you can manage; pop the thing entier into a very hot oven. Ours went into the top oven of the AGA, at the top, which is about 220 degrees centigrade. Leave for ~40 minutes, and then turn the oven down/move it over to ~120 degrees/warming oven.
(In that forty minutes, soak your greens. Take a large bowl and fill it with cold salt water, sea water, water that tastes as sea-y as you can get it. I do this to try and kill off bugs, but I suspect it adds something to the taste, too. Remove any friendly beetly things.)
Once the pork is moved, and the greens soaked, go away for a long time. Go walking, if you can, and if you can’t do that bury your nose in the herbs on the kitchen windowsill and draw elaborate plans of the house you’re going to buy when you make your millions. My imaginary house currently is very detailed, and has a simply enormous kitchen with navy cabinets and a butcher’s block worktop.
Anyway, we left ours five hours, and it was lovely.
Return. Pluck the pig from the colder oven, and return it to the hot oven (or, alternatively, just turn the heat back up to 220 degrees). If you like, and have a Tall Man to hold the pan while you baste, baste. This sounds complicated (visions of syringes) but really just involves a big spoon and somebody tilting the pan so that the fats and juices run deep, so you can get the spoon in further. Spoon over the juices, essentially, and put it back in the hot oven.
(If you were thinking of making mash, too, because why waste the opportunity to eat roast pork and mashed potatoes, now is the time to put the potatoes on to boil.)
Wash the greens thoroughly, and chop roughly with the kitchen scissors. Chop the onion and garlic- the Tall Man did this part, as ever. Throw a pat of butter into a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat. Stir. It will come up foaming. Stir. Let it brown, burn, that gorgeous nutty smell you will remember from the It Gets Better Brown Butter Brownies. Add the garlic and the onion, and a great fistful of crushed-up walnuts. Stir perfunctorily, and drain the potatoes with the other hand. If you aren’t having mash, lay the table with that other hand. Multitasking.
Mash the mash- butter, cream, Dijon mustard, pepper- and check on the heavy-bottomed pot. I usually do this by smell, but I am learning that not everyone cooks mainly with their nose, so do have a look. If the alliums are golden, and the walnuts deep brown, and gloriously garlic-buttery-nuttery, you should add the greens and a good glug of white wine. Cover immediately. Remove pork from hot oven. Spoon mash onto plates, splash over delightfully filthy pan-bottom pig-jus, and top with a generous wodge of pig. Crackling too, please.
Lift the lid of the pan with the greens in, and give them a stir. You want them wilty and submissive, tangled wetly and fragrantly on the bottom of the pot. A note: a spaghetti spoon is the best way to get the greens to the plates. Just the right amount of greenly juice, not too much, not too little.
Tangle the greens across the pork and mash. Pour a large glass of wine. Listen to the wind, and rejoice. This is the closest I will come to church: an essential being grateful for good food and good company and good things fresh from the earth, coming up spring, and clean crisp air.
Leftovers (ha) make excellent bubble-and-squeak things, if bubble-and-squeak is what I mean: anyway, the leftover mash spooned into the greens pan and mixed with the juices thereof, rolled in flour and fried up the next morning with a slice of absolutely piggy thick-cut back bacon. I like this, because it reassures me that absolutely every bit of green the plant had to give has been taken. Vitamins, you know. When I was a little girl I refused to eat anything with vitamins in, but I think I’m coming round. That is what a holiday will do for you, you know.