Last Sunday was one of those lazy kind of days that begged for a leisurely day in the kitchen. It was overcast and cool with light rain falling through the leaves misting over our arched kitchen windows.
I found my self staring down at a ridiculous melange of ingredients that I had accumulated during the previous week. Flailing green leek tips protuded from the refrigerator vegetable drawer, tickling our legs whenever the door opened. Their buried root ends mingled with parsnips, turnips, celery, cabbage, daikon radishes, lemons, purple carrots, cucumbers, snow peas, red bell peppers, and (for some reason) a large fresh pineapple. As a produce collection, it made no sense. It reminded me of childhood dentist visits and those back cover challenges of Highlights Magazine..."What's wrong with this picture?"
With plenty of time on a wistful Sunday afternoon, I came up with a plan to solve the challenge.
Individual tomato, leek, and potato gratins.
I grabbed a few Carmello tomatoes from the windowsill, a medium sized leek from the veggie bin, and a handful of dirt-covered baby red potatoes from the pantry. After tumbling my market produce onto our small kitchen island, I sharpened my knives, pulled up a stool, and leisurely went to work. I snipped the root end from the leek and sliced the tender sections into thin rings before rinsing them thoroughly.
After slicing the new potatoes into paper thin discs, I cut the carmello tomatoes into small crescent-shaped wedges. Thankfully, Michael and I recently purchased normal-sized grown-up ramekins. I grabbed a couple of ramekins, buttered them liberally, and dusted the buttered sides with parmigiano reggiano cheese.
Starting with the potatoes, I filled the ramekins with alternating layers of potatoes, tomatoes, parmigiano, leeks, salt, and pepper. After the final layer I drizzled 1/4 cup of heavy cream into each ramekin, covered them foil, and tucked them into the refrigerator to rest until I needed them.
Grilled smoked boneless pork chops glazed with Jezebel Sauce, topped with fried shoestring sweet potatoes and fried thyme.
Jezebel sauce (an old school southern condiment made with pineapple perserves, apple jelly, ground mustard, black pepper, and horseradish) is usually relegated to cocktail party status as a topping for cream cheese served with crackers. Occasionally, it adorns baked ham, grilled ribs, or chicken. Back in the day, I used it a lot as a party snack. With its biting horseradish heat tempered by the sweetness of the perserves and jelly, it's a quick, easy, and tasty party favorite.
I decided to revisit the old stand-by as a glaze for grilled boneless smoked pork chops. I could have used supermarket perserves and jelly, but I had a huge fresh pineapple hogging precious space in the veggie bin. Why not make quick fresh pineapple perserves as a base for the sauce? It made perfect sense to me. I sliced half of the pineapple into rings and removed the core. Using a fork, I shredded the pineapple flesh into small pieces and tossed the shreds into a mixing bowl with twice the amount of castor sugar, letting them macerate for 30 minutes to release the fresh juices.
I got a cast iron skillet smoking hot, poured the shredded pineapple along with the accumualted juices into the skillet, reduced the heat, and let it foam and bubble for 25 minutes until it started to thicken and turn clear. For additional depth of flavor, I swirled a heaping spoonful of Quarles Farm pear perserves into the caramelized pineapple mixture before removing it from the heat to cool. When cooled completely, I folded in ground mustard, cracked black pepper, pure horseradish, and diced red bell pepper for color and crunch.
Mandolin fun. I set the Jezebel sauce aside and pulled my mandolin from the gadget garage. Using the smallest julienne attachment on the thinnest blade setting, I carefully sliced the sweet potato into gorgeous shoestrings.
Mise en place. Check.
I slid the julienned sweet potatoes into the refrigerator, poured myself a big glass of wine, curled up in front of the flat screen television, and caught up on a few NFL football games. Heaven.
Eventually, I made my way back into the kitchen. After preheating the oven to 350 degrees, I popped the tomato, leek, and potato gratins into the oven to bake for 45 minutes.
While the gratins bubbled away, I cranked the deep fryer to 325 degrees and fried the sweet potatoes in small batches until golden and crisp, carefully layering each batch into small nests on paper towels to drain. With the fryer turned off, I used the residual heat from the oil to deep fry a few fresh thyme sprigs.
I pulled the gratins from the oven to rest and got a grill pan smoking hot before branding the pork chops with gorgeous caramelized hatch-marks. I plated the chops and painted them with the pepper-studded Jezebel sauce. As the glaze melted and oozed over the hot chops, I topped them with the golden fried potato straws and the insanely fragile fried thyme sprigs.
After nestling the unmolded gratins onto our plates, I tossed around a few steamed julienned snow peas as a nod to freshness.
The gratins collapsed into wonderfully gooey cheesy puddles with roasted tomatoes melting into the leeks and bathing the tender potatoes with intense sweet acidity. The soothing soft gratins were perfect foils to the riotous flavors exploding from the pineapple and horseradish glazed pork chops smothered under crackling shoestring sweet potato fries. There was a lot going on. The soft, crunchy, sweet, and savory combinations played off of each other beautifully. We literally licked our plates devouring it, leaving us both with sticky faces and Jezebel lips.