Last fall I posed a challenge: A dozen teen-agers arrived one Sunday to watch football on television. "We'll be hungry, Mom," was my only instruction. Not for me the last-minute anxieties of hamburgers or a homemade pizza. I cooked up this menu well in advance, set it on the hot plate and left them to it.
The Pennsylvania Dutch have a way with stews, adding spices, dried fruits and often a touch of sour vinegar or lemon juice to balance the sweet. With a rich meat like pork, the combination is perfect. Stews like this are remarkably simple and need almost no attention during cooking. They reheat well, and the flavor mellows during storage.
What could be more satisfying than pork stew with cornmeal and cheese? Here yellow or white cornmeal is simmered with milk to a smooth mush, then left to set and be cut into squares. When layered in a dish and sprinkled with cheese and butter, the squares bake to a delicious brown and fragrant offering, resembling Italian polenta. They are a good accompaniment to beef stew as well as pork, or make a warming winter appetizer.
Subbing for Lettuce
Salad in winter can be a puzzle if faded hothouse lettuce is to be avoided. Root vegetables come into their own in mixtures like this classic Beet, Belgian Endive and Watercress Salad. Less expensive curly endive can replace the Belgian endive, and in Europe, where the salad originates, velvety lamb's lettuce, also called mache, is used instead of watercress--excellent if you can find it. All the vegetables can be prepared ahead, but do not toss them with dressing until the last minute as the beets will bleed their color.
Aunt Ruth was a character I met when visiting the Pennsylvania Dutch country. A grand old woman she was, whose children profited from her talent for cooking by selling her wares in the local farmers' market. When I was there, the day's offering was a moist apple pandowdy flavored with molasses and turned out like an upside-down cake. I've added to the mix some tart rhubarb, just coming into season. Served plain or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it's a tactic bound to succeed for Super Bowl fans.
SQUARE MEAL FOR SUPER BOWL FOR 12 Pennsylvania Dutch Pork Stew Baked Cornmeal and Cheese Squares Beet, Endive and Watercress Salad Aunt Ruth's Apple and Rhubarb Pandowdy Suggested drinks: Hard cider, apple juice or beer Up to three days before serving, make pork stew.
Up to two days before serving, prepare cornmeal squares. Cook beets and make dressing for salad. Bake apple and rhubarb pandowdy.
About 30 minutes before serving, reheat pandowdy in oven.
About 10 minutes before serving, remove pandowdy and keep warm. Raise oven heat to 450 degrees and brown squares. Reheat stew.
Just before serving add butter to stew. Toss salad.
PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH PORK STEW
4 pounds boned pork shoulder
6 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons oil
3 cups stock or water, about
8 ounces pitted prunes
6 ounces dried apricots
2/3 cup raisins
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup butter, cut in pieces
Cut pork in 1 1/2-inch cubes. Season flour with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Toss pork in seasoned flour until well coated. Heat oil in flame-proof casserole and fry pork cubes, few at time, until well browned. Remove and continue to fry remaining pork. Replace pork cubes in pan. Add 3 cups stock. Cover, bring to boil and bake at 325 degrees 1 hour.
Meanwhile, place prunes, apricots and raisins in bowl. Pour boiling water over to cover. Let stand 1 hour, then drain fruit. Stir into pork with additional stock, if pan seems dry. Cover and continue baking 30 to 45 minutes longer or until pork and fruit are tender.
Add lemon juice to sauce. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Stew can be refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen.
To finish, reheat stew on top of stove. Remove from heat and add butter, shaking pan so butter melts and mixes into sauce. Makes 12 servings.
Note: Dried apples or pears make excellent addition to stew.
BAKED CORNMEAL AND CHEESE SQUARES
2 quarts milk, about
1 onion, studded with 2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Dash grated nutmeg
2 cups yellow or white cornmeal
6 egg yolks
2 cups grated dry Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup butter, melted
Bring 2 quarts milk, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boil in saucepan. Cover and let stand over low heat to infuse 15 minutes. Strain. Generously butter 15x10-inch jelly roll pan or tray.
Return milk to pan and gradually whisk in cornmeal. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until mixture is thick but still falls easily from spoon, 5 to 8 minutes. Mixture should not be sticky. If necessary, add more milk.
Remove pan from heat and beat in egg yolks, 1 at time, so yolks thicken in heat of mixture. Stir in 1 cup cheese and mustard. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Spread mixture in prepared pan to form 1/2-inch layer. Brush with melted butter. Chill 2 hours or until set.