Courtesy Zachary Mazi, chef, LionFish SupperClub in Santa Cruz
Sweet Potato Gratin
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
5 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds sweet potatoes, orange, sliced into thin rounds
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups heavy cream
6 slices bacon, cooked and broken into pieces
Preheat oven to 400° F. Combine salt, pepper, nutmeg and allspice. In an 8 by 8-inch casserole dish lined with parchment paper, arrange sliced sweet potato in layers, followed by salt and spices, and then grated Parmesan and some bacon. Repeat layers using even amounts of ingredients until they are all used. Pour heavy cream over layers and top with Parmesan. Cover and bake until a chopstick easily pierces gratin, about 1 hour.
Cover baked gratin with parchment paper. Place similar casserole dish on top with heavy weight (cans of tomatoes, etc.) and press overnight in refrigerator. (It is OK if some of the liquid squeezes out of the sides; you may want to place the whole project on a cookie sheet to catch the drips.)
The following day, flip casserole dish and remove the cold, pressed gratin. Slice off rough edges to make 8 squares. (And enjoy the scraps while you plate your meal.)
Braised Pork Belly
2 pounds pork belly, skin off, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon candy cap mushroom powder*
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 fennel bulb, cored and julienned (greens reserved)
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons bourbon
1 orange, juiced
½ cup water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons fennel flowers**
Greens from 1 fennel bulb
Combine candy cap mushroom powder with salt and pepper and rub into pork on all sides. Allow pork to sit for 2 to 4 hours with salt rub.
Meanwhile, combine maple syrup, orange juice, bourbon, water and Worcestershire sauce and set aside. Core and julienne fennel bulb and halve leeks, white part only. Arrange leeks on the bottom of a deep oven pan with heavy lid (or one with a lip so foil will hold in steam), and cover with julienned fennel.
Pat pork belly dry, and sear on very high heat to get a rich, bronzed brown on all sides. Then lay pork belly on top of the vegetables, pour liquid over the top and cover tightly with lid or foil. Place in a preheated 300° F oven and cook for 2 to 3 hours.
When fork or knife pierces pork with ease, remove pork belly and chop fennel and leeks roughly. In a saucepan on the stove, reduce braising liquid to half its volume.
To serve, reheat gratin pieces in 300° F oven until hot and browning on top. In center of each plate, lay some braised fennel and leeks. Arrange one piece each of hot gratin and braised pork belly on top of fennel and leeks. (See photo.)
Garnish the top of the belly and gratin with fennel greens and fennel flowers. Drizzle some of the reduced poaching liquid around the plate, or get fancy and make dots, or whatever makes your eyes happy. Now make your mouth happy and eat!
*Dried candy cap mushrooms may be purchased from local specialty food stores such as Stone Creek Kitchen in Monterey or from chef Mazi in Santa Cruz (email@example.com) and pulverized in a spice grinder or a coffee grinder.
**If you don’t have fennel growing in your garden, look for fennel flowers at the farmers’ market. Or substitute fennel pollen, available at specialty food stores.
LionFish SupperClub • www.lionfishsc.com