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Pork with Onions & Prunes over Polenta

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Serves four.

Be sure the oven is up to temperature before you start the polenta. Adding the white wine in stages for repeated reductions goes a long way toward deepening the flavor and color of this stew.

For the glazed onions:
  • 12 small white onions, an X cut in the root end, blanched, drained, and peeled
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. butter
  • 1 tsp. sugar
For the pork:
  • 1-1/2 lb. pork shoulder or butt, fat trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch dried rosemary, crumbled
  • Pinch dried thyme, crumbled  
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 Tbs. red-wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon-style mustard
  • 1-1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cloves garlic 
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • Salt to taste 
  • 1-3/4 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken stock
  • 8 large dried pitted prunes, soaked in hot water to soften
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
For the polenta:
  • 1 cup medium-coarse polenta, preferably organic stone-ground
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt; more to taste
Cook the onions:

In a small skillet, combine the onions, 1/4 cup water, butter, and sugar; bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, until the water evaporates and the onions are just tender; about 5 minutes. Cook uncovered over low heat until the onions are well browned, about 8 minutes. Set aside, uncovered.

Start the stew:

Toss the pork with the olive oil, cinnamon, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. In a heavy, 5-qt. Dutch oven, brown the pork over medium heat for about 5 minutes, adding no fat to the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring frequently, until any moisture has evaporated and the pork is thoroughly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a bowl. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chopped onion to the remaining pan juices. Cook until the onion is soft and starting to brown, about 6 minutes, and then add it to the reserved pork.

Add the vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 cup of the wine to the pot. Heat to boiling, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Reduce to a glaze. Add another 1/2 cup wine; again, reduce it to a glaze. Repeat with the last 1/2 cup wine. Add the garlic, carrots, and bay leaf to the pot. Return the pork, onions, and any accumulated juices to the pot, season with salt, and add the stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat. Simmer gently until barely tender, 45 to 55 minutes.

Meanwhile, start the polenta:

Heat the oven to 350°F. In an oiled 3-qt. nonstick ovenproof skillet, combine the cornmeal, water, and salt. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Stir the polenta, taste, add salt if needed, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the polenta rest in the pan for 5 minutes before pouring it onto a serving platter.

Finish the stew:

After 45 minutes of simmering, add the prunes and glazed onions to the meat. Continue cooking, uncovered, until the pork is very tender and the stew is thickened (about another 15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Remove the pot from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and adjust the seasonings. Set aside until the polenta is ready. If necessary, gently reheat the stew to bubbling and serve on top of the hot polenta, sprinkled with chopped parsley.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 630; Fat (g): 26; Fat Calories (kcal): 240; Saturated Fat (g): 9; Protein (g): 32; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 13; Carbohydrates (g): 63; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3; Sodium (mg): 1430; Cholesterol (mg): 100; Fiber (g): 8;

Photo: Daniel Proctor

A definite keeper, perfect for fall and winter entertaining. The ragout sauce was sublime (for the stock I used homemade chicken and a little broth I'd made from the leftovers of a ham cooked in cider). It's hard to get my burners low enough, so I just cooked in a 200 deg oven for about 2 hrs, then reduced on top of stove. Great polenta method, too. Never tried oven baked before, but it worked nicely.

Wow, this was really delicious. My dinner guests raved about it! I made it a day in advance, but the flavors were just as rich two days later. I would recommend making it ahead so that the flavors can meld. My cooking time was a bit longer, and when I reheated it the next day the pork finally fell apart and was tender. I added the onions and prunes toward the end of the cooking time so that they wouldn't become too macerated or mushy but you need that butter and carmelized sugar to thicken the sauce. Slightly more time consuming than I'd anticipated, but well worth it. I served it with creamy polenta (stock and whole milk), rather than the baked polenta, so I can't comment on that part of the recipe.

This is fantastic. I adapted it slightly to include prunes that were soaked in hot tea, as they are in the duck/red wine version of this recipe that appears in The Cooking of Southwest France. Tender pork requires patience in the long simmer step, but the amount of time it takes is right in line with the recipe. This is comfort food at its best.

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