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On occasion, I feel that a food trend has escaped my attention, crept quietly onto the tables of the best restaurants, paraded itself on the cover of every food magazine. Most of these trends, I’ll admit, are so fleeting that they’re gone by the time I ever decide to try them in my own kitchen. Perhaps they don’t last long because many of them (Kale Everything! Quinoa Dark Chocolate!) are not so delicious. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

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I first tried pork belly at Table 310, a handsome little bistro in Lexington, Ky. There, fine slices were served, quavering on a bed of local arugula, bejeweled with a fried quail’s egg. The dish was so impressive that I believed, at the time, that the chef possessed some culinary sorcery. And since my local grocery is not a purveyor of such a fine porky cut, I gave up on trying it at home.

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But then one fine day, I heard about the good people at Porter Road Butcher. Pioneered by James Peisker and Chris Carter, PRB specializes in local whole-animal butchery. This yields a greater variety of cuts, and it promotes more culinary experimentation with specialties not often found in the plastic-wrapped aisles of your local grocery.

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When I called them up to ask if I could take a few photos, they welcomed me with open arms, showed me around the place, eager to share their craft. And while I know that their willingness was in part due to the fact that they’re nice folks, I think it has more to do with the pride they have for their work. I left with a deep respect for their work. Oh yea, and a handful of pork belly.

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Roasted Pork Belly with Savory Oats and Apple Chutney

For the Pork Belly:

1 lb pork belly

1 cup apple cider vinegar

3 tsp salt

2 tsp black pepper

3 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place the belly skin-side down in a rimmed baking dish and cover with a layer of salt and pepper. Pour into the dish the apple cider vinegar, water and honey. Cover tightly with foil and let cook for 3 hours. Turn over the pork belly and let it cook 3 more hours. When done, allow the belly to cool completely in the fridge. This will ensure that every piece holds together upon being cut. Before plating, warm a saute pan on medium high heat. Slice the cold pork belly into 1/8 inch pieces and warm in the saute pan until the fat begins to render and crisp. 

For the Apple Chutney:

4 gala apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

3/4 tsp dried ginger

1 cup raisins

pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and let simmer on med-low heat for 45 minutes, until the mixture is thick.

For the Savory Oats:

1 cup quick-cooking steel cut oats

2 cups chicken broth

1/2 tsp black pepper

salt, to taste

Bring the chicken broth and the black pepper to a boil. Add oats and cook for 7 minutes, or until the oats have softened and come together. Once the oats have cooled slightly, place them in the center of a dish, then top with the crispy pork belly, and warm apple chutney.

Enjoy.

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I sound like an eight-year old when I say that pizza is my favorite food. As a bread baker, this should come as little surprise. Pizza is, after all, flattened bread taken to an ethereal place by something melting on top of it. But I must be honest and tell you that I like all pizza: the doughy(often undercooked), cheesy mess from delivery joints; the almost cracker-like rounds from the café across the street. In other words, even in its worst incarnation, I wouldn’t turn it down. I hope that I’m not alone in this. 

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I would say that humans are at their greediest when faced with the question of who gets the last slice of pizza. What is it that is so good about pizza that it manages to bring out our worst? Don’t act like I’m the only person who, as the slices dwindle, begins eyeing the plates of the dinner guests, considering who is on their third or fourth piece, to ensure no one takes what does not belong to them. I had never been willing to make this admission until my brother shared that he too had experienced the same sentiments, and that he had dubbed those mental calculations pizza math.

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Most avid home cooks, myself included, fuss over the tiniest of details when we cook, because we assume that the end product will be better for it. We insist on a pinch of this or a dash of that, the addition of some over-priced or hard-to-find ingredient to give the dish a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s part of human nature to think that good things must owe their goodness to some special secret, some guarded riddle to their greatness, as if all of life were a magic trick made possible by smoke, mirrors, and sleight of hand.

It came as quite a surprise to me when I discovered that the best pizza I could make at home held no secret: no advanced kneading technique, no imported flour, no special equipment required. The best pizza I could make at home called for flour, water, yeast, salt and time. That’s it. And I have Jim Lahey, owner and bread visionary of Sullivan St. Bakery and Co. to thank. 

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Pizza night at the Bostows is like an improv jazz session. In other words, we know that we’ll be making pizza, but we’ll decide exactly what kind when the dough has risen and the oven is hot. Lately, a favorite has been a pie with bacon-sweet onion jam, peppery arugula, and melty gruyére. It’s a richly satisfying, welcome change from the traditional margarita or pepperoni. Enough talk; let’s make pizza.

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Ingredients

For the dough:

1000 grams AP flour

1/4 tsp yeast

4 tsps fine sea salt

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups of room temperature water. Mix just until the dough comes together. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 18 hours at around 72 degrees.

After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and gently shape it into a rectangle. Divide the tough into 6 equal pieces. Shape each portion into a round by pulling the four corners of the dough onto itself, flipping it over and turning it gently, so that the seam side is facing down. If you screw this up, don’t worry. All will be well. Let the shaped rounds rise for 1 to 2 hours or until the dough is very soft and extensible.

Thirty minutes before you’re ready to eat, crank your oven as hot as it will go. Using more flour to mitigate the dough’s stickiness, shape the dough into a 8” round. This is done most easily by allowing the dough to sit on top of your knuckles as you rotate it. With gentle force and the weight of the dough itself, the round will expand evenly without tearing.

Before baking, turn the oven to its highest broil setting. Place the dough onto a floured baking sheet, top with whatever you like (in this case, less is more), and let it bake for 5-7 minutes. Don’t be afraid to let the dough char and the cheese bubble.

For the Bacon-Sweet Onion Jam:

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/2 lb bacon, chopped

1 tbsp dijon mustard

2 tbsp ketchup

1/2 tbsp molasses

1/2 tbsp worcestershire

1/2 tbsp sugar

In a sautée pan, cook the bacon on medium heat until the fat has rendered and the meat is crispy. Scoop out the bacon with a slotted spoon and leave about 2 tbsps of the drippings. Add the onions to the pan and allow them to cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the onions become darkly golden, add all remaining ingredients to the pan and stir to incorporate. Let the mixture cook for 10 more minutes. It’s impossible to overcook this, and any additional cooking time will only make it taste better.

To make the pizza in the picture, top the shaped dough with a thin layer of tomato sauce. I like Cento Brand’s tomato purée. Pile high with fresh arugula, as the greens will wilt and shrink. On top of the arugula, gently strew the sweet-onion jam, followed by thick slices of Gruyére cheese. Let the pizza cook until the Gruyére is bubbly and the edges are charred.

Enjoy.