In addition to slow-cooking, consider the merits of the one-pan meal. I have better things to do than wash a stack of dishes, but refuse to compromise on food quality. I often use both of the aforementioned cooking methods--not at the same time--to achieve the best of both worlds. A one-pan meal, unlike slow-cooking, can be relatively quick and gives the chef more options than savory mush (but don't tell my Crock Pot I said that.)
Both cranberry and fennel have been on my mind (and in my fridge) lately, and I kept having the inkling they would make a winning team. During a wave of inspiration a couple of weeks ago, I gave this problem some focused thought, scanned the fridge, and got cooking. I produced the recipe shown here, which my family deemed an instant keeper. The recipe was, in fact, so tasty and seasonally appropriate, that it made its official debut at our Thanksgiving table. If you have a leftover bag of cranberries floating around in your fridge, you may have discovered their purpose.
In hindsight, it is hard to believe I made it into my early 30's before tasting pork belly. I suppose my southern friends would say this makes me a true yankee (and they would be absolutely right). For the uninitiated, pork belly is the same cut of pork as our beloved bacon--it's just not cured nor smoked. Pork belly is fresh bacon and fresh bacon is delightful. That said, you could certainly use regular bacon for this recipe and, depending on your preferences, you might think it is even better. I feel fortunate to get locally raised meat from our friends Martha and Paul. (You might be surprised how many CSAs and backyard farmers raise good pork near you.) When eating good pork, I taste the healthy meat of a well-cared-for animal and I don't need to fret over residual antibiotics, added nitrates, added sugar, mystery spice mixes containing dextrose, et cetera. Pork belly usually comes in slab form too, meaning I can slice it into thick chunks that complement the coarse texture of this recipe.
Don't be daunted by the odd ingredient list. The fruits and veggies listed below aren't as rare as you might think. I can find quince, fennel and cranberry at most of my local grocery stores, especially this time of year. The key is knowing where to look.
This delightful pome fruit is in the same family as two very common pomes: apple and pear. Quince can sometimes be found near the tropical fruits, although I'm not exactly sure why. You may be familiar with quince as a decorative shrub. Yep...same plant. Fun fact: Quince roots are used as a dwarfing rootstock for growing small apple trees! If you can't find quince, use a flavorful apple and you'll get a rough approximation of flavor, even if the apple falls apart when cooked.
Where I live, these tart berries are abundant in the produce section this time of year. If you can't find them fresh, check out the frozen fruit section. If you have the freezer space and can find the fresh ones, stock up now--cranberries freeze exceptionally well! They go great in smoothies and are an easy, SCD-legal, Paleo, (etc), way to get some reds into your diet, as advocated by docs like Terry Wahls of The Wahls Protocol!
We all have our power foods, but do we know what they are? Fennel is on my list. Whether I eat it raw, blend it into a smoothie, or sauté it in a pan, I digest fennel extremely well. One thing I have learned overcoming ulcerative colitis is that good digestion is fundamental to positive energy and enthusiasm. Did I mention that fennel is also delicious? Often confused with anise due to the similar flavor, fennel is that vegetable with the bulbous bottom, celery-like stalks and wispy dill-like leaves. The whole plant is edible, and you can usually find it in the produce section near the celery.
Cranberry Fennel Sauté
(Serves approximately 4)
If your cranberries are frozen, set them out first to thaw while you prepare the pork.
If you prefer a meatless version of this dish , I recommend using coconut oil as your pork-fat substitute. If including animal products is not your sticking point, this recipe would also be great prepared with duck fat, goose fat, or even butter/clarified butter from pastured cows.
If using pork belly, slice it up. I cut a 1/2 lb slab of bacon into three chunks and then slice those chunks into thick lengthwise slices. Lay out the pork in the pan and cook over medium heat. You may need to cook the meat in multiple batches, depending on the quantity of pork and the size of your pan. As your pork sizzles, prepare the other fruit and vegetables being sure to check the pan often--burnt bacon is a cryin' shame. For this round, I skipped the pork belly this time and started with leftover lard because I have a fridge full of turkey.
Prep the produce:
When all of the pork is cooked to your desired level of crispiness, turn off the burner, remove pork from the pan, salt the meat (if appropriate), and keep the meat warm on a plate in the oven between 180° and 200° F.
At this point you will likely have a very fatty frying pan. Pour off the fat you don't need and reserve it for other recipes, if you like, but not into a plastic container. Leave enough fat in the pan to adequately sauté the vegetables. To me that's somewhere around 1/8 inch of fat (3 mm). If you did not cook pork belly this time around (like me), add some fat to the pan.
Add the pumpkin to the frying pan and turn the heat back to medium, agitating the pan every couple of minutes but not stirring too much. When the pumpkin chunks have started to caramelize, add the onion and shallot and gently toss.
When the onions have started to soften, add the quince and the fennel bulb and stalk pieces (but not the leaves, yet) and toss them in with the onion and pumpkin. Add some salt, ground/cracked pepper and sage at this point--all of them to taste. If using dried sage, add a few shakes, toss, and taste. It should be delicious without being overpoweringly sagey (that's a thing.)
After a few more minutes, add the cranberries and the fennel leaves. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice into the pan and optionally grate in a bit of the rind as well. Toss the mixture one last time, get the pan hot again, cover the pan, and turn the burner to the lowest setting. This final step with the cover is optional but helps ensure all of the vegetable and quince bits are softened without overcooking. It also helps the flavors to meld.
As soon as the vegetables are soft, but not mushy, turn off the burner, plate some pork (or your protein of choice) and serve alongside the colorful mixture. Add additional salt, pepper, or garnish as desired.
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.