I’ve just been to New York and Virginia where both the hospitality and the heat were off the scale. In NY one of my happiest meals was sitting in Central Park eating the most beautiful pink-blushed apricots. In Virginia I was treated to sweet, sticky pork ribs, corn and Southern-style biscuits. But like Sombrero hats and lederhosen, corn and ribs don’t travel – at least not to rain-soaked Britain they don’t. Nothing could match that perfect Virginian setting, as the sun beat down.
So this is my version of pork ribs and corn for an English climate, where hot means the tepid temperature necessary to make yoghurt. Pork belly and gooseberries….
When I wrote a while ago about the ‘truculence of pastry’ I was only really warming up for an introduction to the true god of moodiness, the gooseberry. Its bilious green demeanour, bristly exterior and the sheer impossibility of tasting its bitter flesh without wincing makes it second only to the quince in all-round trickiness. But, like the quince, treat it right and it will offer up glorious, tart flavour in a trice.
It’s been said of the British television presenter and film buff Barry Norman that his crumpled face but immaculate hair make him look as though he’s been up all night with a brush and comb. The gooseberry looks as though it’s been up all night at the bar, nursing a Jack Daniel’s and a grudge.
When it comes to the perfect partnership, the tetchy, hard-to-please gooseberry needs an avuncular, plump companion. Think of Mad Men’s brilliant but ruthless Don Draper paired with the lusciously beautiful Joan and you’ll get the picture.
Pork Belly and Gooseberry Sauce
Sliced pork belly – quantities really depend on how much you want to eat, but two pieces per person is a good start
Fennel seeds – three teaspoons
Thyme – a fistful
Rosemary – two good sprigs
Olive oil – a glug or two
Garlic – three cloves, crushed
Preheat the oven to 200 c and tip all the ingredients into a strong polythene bag. Massage the pork around a bit. Leave to marinade for an hour or so, returning to massage the bag every now and again. Remove the pork from the bag, along with the marinade, and place in an oven dish. Cook for thirty minutes. Leave to rest for ten minutes while you make the gooseberry sauce.
Sugar – half a cup
Dash of water
Half a star anise
Zest of one lemon
Put all the ingredients, except the butter, into a pan and bring to a simmer. Stir until the gooseberries have collapsed and remove from the heat. Add the knob of butter, remove the star anise and that’s it. Eat in the rain and think of Virginia sunshine.