Modern Country Cooking for a Crowd
Seasonal ingredients, simple skills, satisfied eaters
Maine cooking teacher and author Annemarie Ahearn believes we can all be good cooks. We simply need to trust our instincts and rely on quality, seasonal ingredients. She does recommend daily practice, though. In these excerpted recipes from her latest cookbook, Modern Country Cooking (published this year by Roost Books), Ahearn walks us through a perfect fall meal that will help you exercise your pickling, pasta-sauce making, pork roasting and berry baking skills to please the eight people in your pandemic posse this fall.
Pickled Hen of the Woods
Each year, a dear friend offers us an enormous maitake mushroom (also known as hen of the woods). We fry up some of it with butter and eggs, but the rest needs preserving. One of my favorite ways to preserve a mushroom is in pickling liquid, which allows you to enjoy it as a pre-dinner snack along with some crackers and cheese throughout the fall and into the holiday season. The method of preservation involves a combination of oil, which becomes infused with the mushroom’s earthy scents, and vinegar, which gives the mushroom a sharp flavor.
Makes 1 quart
2 cups rice wine vinegar
1 cup white wine
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pound cleaned mushrooms, cut into bite-size pieces
2 strips orange peel
Extra virgin olive oil, to cover
In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, white wine, peppercorns, thyme, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms, cook for 1–2 minutes, and turn off the heat. Let cool. Strain the mushroom mixture, then place it in a 16-ounce mason jar along with the orange peel. It should just about reach the top of the jar. Fill the jar with olive oil to preserve. Cover and keep it on the counter. The mushrooms will last 2–3 months if submerged in oil. Snack on the mushrooms along with cured meats, cheeses, and crackers before meals.
Pasta e Fagioli
This meal was inspired by a pile of gorgeous speckled pink and white borlotti beans that I posted on Instagram, asking my followers, “What should I do with these?” My dear friend, who gave me an incredible tour of Rome while he was working at the American Academy, suggested pasta e fagioli. The garden was full of overripe tomatoes, and we had plenty of garlic still drying in the greenhouse, so it seemed like the perfect dish. And once it was on the table, it did indeed remind me of the time that we had spent together in Rome. If you’re unable to source fresh borlotti beans, any fresh bean will do. In a pinch, you can use a dried bean, such as Jacob’s Cattle beans.
Serves 4, but can be doubled
1 cup borlotti beans or other fresh beans, removed from pods
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped
3 cups ripe garden tomatoes, roughly chopped
Fresh ground pepper
1 bay leaf
Red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh egg pasta
Grated Parmesan, for garnish
Extra virgin olive oil, for garnish
4 small sprigs oregano, for garnish
To cook the beans: Fill a large pot with water and salt generously. Bring it to a boil. Add the beans and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the bean liquid, and cool them immediately with cold water to stop the cooking. (You do not want the beans to overcook, as they will turn to mush.)
To make the sauce: In a large, shallow, heavy-bottomed pan, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and let soften, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, a pinch of salt, ground pepper, and the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, ground pepper, and red pepper flakes.
To cook the pasta: Fill a large pot with water and salt generously. Bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5–6 minutes. Warm the sauce over medium heat. Add the beans to it, along with 1 cup of bean water. Once the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the sauce with a set of tongs, bringing a bit of pasta water along with it. You want the sauce to be loose but not liquidy. Toss the pasta in the sauce with the beans for 1 or 2 minutes and then twist nests of pasta into individual bowls. Garnish with a little grated Parmesan, a small pour of good olive oil, and a sprig of oregano.
Porchetta with Salsa Verde
Porchetta has always intrigued me, as it calls for a nontraditional cut of pork that is very heavy on fat. I’ve learned that it is a wonderful cut for a large and informal gathering, paired with a bright sauce that cuts through the fat. If you have access to a rotisserie, that’s the way to go. Otherwise, an oven-roasted porchetta won’t disappoint.
FOR THE PORCHETTA
One 6- to 7-pound pork belly with skin on and center-cut pork loin attached (ask your butcher ahead of time to prepare this for you)
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and minced
6 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked from stems and minced
8 sprigs thyme, leaved picked from stems
1 tablespoon fennel powder, or ground fennel seeds
Zest of 3 lemons
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
FOR THE SALSA VERDE
2 tablespoons capers
1 hard-boiled egg, cut in half
1 small bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, leaves picked from stems
1 small bunch chives, minced
1 small bunch tarragon, leaves picked from stems
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves picked from stems
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh ground pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Toasted bread, to serve
To make the porchetta: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Let me preface this next step by saying that you can have the butcher do the cutting. If you are doing the cutting yourself, first, slice the skin away from the meat and fat in one piece. You will use the skin to wrap up the whole porchetta later. Now unroll and open up the pork belly by cutting into it to create as much surface area as possible, keeping it in one piece. Lay it flat. (You are more or less butterflying it.) Combine the garlic, rosemary, thyme, fennel, lemon zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper and mix well. Rub down the interior of the porchetta (all of the cut pieces) with the marinade and let sit for an hour. Roll the porchetta up tightly and wrap it with the skin. Tie up the skin (around the outside) tightly with three pieces of kitchen string to hold the whole thing together. Place the porchetta on a rack fitted into a roasting pan and move it to the center of the oven. Cook for 45 minutes or until the skin gets nice and crisp. Reduce the heat to 350°F and cook for an additional 2 ½ hours. A thermometer inserted into the center of the pork should read 160°F when done.
To make the salsa verde: Place all the salsa verde ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth. The salsa should be spreadable. if it’s too thick, add more olive oil to thin it.
Remove the porchetta from the oven and allow it to rest for 20 minutes so that the juices evenly distribute. Slice the porchetta into ½-inch thick rounds. Serve with salsa verde and some good toasted bread to make simple sandwiches.
For 10 years at the cooking school, I have taught a class called Cobblers, Buckles, and Grunts. These are all funny New England terms for some combination of sugar, flour, butter,
and berries. The class typically celebrates the berry of the moment: strawberries in June, raspberries in July, blueberries in August, and blackberries in September. This recipe is great for breakfast or with afternoon tea. (Note: For eight portions, bake this buckle in a 9-inch springform pan.)
FOR THE TOPPING
4 tablespoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
FOR THE BASE
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened, plus more for the pan
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup milk
1 pound blackberries
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter and flour six 6-ounce ramekins or one 9-inch springform pan lined with parchment paper.
To make the topping: In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The mixture should be crumbly in texture. Set aside.
To make the base: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla and egg and beat until smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and milk and mix for 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, fold the blackberries into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins or springform pan and sprinkle with the topping. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool before serving.
Annemarie Ahearn is the author of Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm and offers classes and monthly meals at her seaside home.