Duqqa: An Egyptian Gourmet Delight

duqqa300You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy Dakka or Duqqa, an Egyptian side dish consisting of crushed nuts, herbs and spices. There are many variations to this lovely side dish, but this particular recipe comes from The Union Square Cafe, courtesy of our good friend, Ginger B., who had the could sense to ask for it during a recent visit to USD.   It makes a lovely house-warming dish and is best served at room temperature with slices of bread or warmed pita bread.  Some of our friends will often use it to raise the taste profile of a grilled skinless chicken breast or farm-raised tilapia or catfish.  Even vegetarians are surprised that vegetables taste better when dipped in Duqqa.

Duqqa from Union Square Cafe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 cups toasted pistachios
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 2 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp chopped oregano
  • 2 tsp chopped rosemary

Preparation

  1. Roast the pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds separately. Lightly grind the pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a food processor.
  2. Crush the pistachios with the side of a knife or a rolling pin and mix with the seeds.
  3. Dissolve the salt in the lemon juice and toss with the nut mix.
  4. Then toss the nut mixture with the fennel, coriander, and black pepper. Set aside.
  5. Heat the oil in a pan until just hot to the touch. Add the oregano and rosemary and stir til you hear it crackle.
  6. Immediately pour the oil over the nuts and mix evenly.
  7. Let the Duqqa cool to room temperature, then the wrap tightly and refrigerate.
  8. When serving allow the mixture to come to room temperature.

Used occasionally, this mixture should last three months or so.

Finocchiona Salami and the Gran Sasso

finocchiona salamiThérèse and I will generally opt for finocchiona salami if pressed to make a decision for a picnic lunch.  This delicious salami has the distinct taste and smell of fennel which is often used to flavor pork in Umbria and Tuscany.  Whether you are using ground fennel seeds or the powerful fennel pollen, this delightful spice makes all the difference in pork, particularly salami.   I fondly recall pulling off the road to have a delicious porchetta sandwich for lunch.  In any event, a little finocchiona, fontina cheese and bread make for a great lunch, particularly for a jaunt in the lovely countryside of Italy.  As a side note, Mario Batali now uses fennel pollen for pollo al mattone (chicken under a brick) and, it too, is delicious.

One of our favorite weekend outings was to hike the beautiful fields around the base of the Gran Sasso in Abruzzi – about 1.5 hours from Rome.  During the spring, there were delightful flowers and pools of water that had been filled by the melting snow.  It was still rather cool at that time of the year, but hiking around these lovely fields kept you warm and certainly helped work up an appetite for lunch.

Gran Sasso

One of the curious things about the Gran Sasso is that we had to take a cable car up to the “Refugio” from which we began our walk. I believe the “refugio” has now become a hotel, but as most Italians remember, it is the site of the famous rescue of Mussolini by a German pilot, who flew Il Duce to the north to escape the invading allies. I’ve seen a few vintage photographs taken at the time of his “rescue” and, regardless of your feelings toward Mussolini, this was clearly a very dangerous and courageous mission. When asked to elicit a response from an Italian on the skill demonstrated by the German pilot, they will simply respond: “È tedesco,” implying that only a German would be crazy enough to try it.

Rescue of Il Duce

For those Gourmay readers with a bit of time, consider a spring walk on Gran Sasso with your finocchiona salami and, perhaps, a flask of wine or grappa.

Jamie Oliver’s Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Braised Fennel

Readers of Gourmay are aware that I think highly of Jamie Oliver as both a chef and and as a crusader to help overhaul the unhealthy school lunches that are served to millions of  children daily.  Now the crusades lasted 200 years and, judging from the hostile reception Jamie received by the Los Angeles School Board, it is likely to take Jamie far longer to convince our corrupt politicians and agribusiness lobbyists to stop killing our children with processed food.

They say that you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but Jaime gives it a go with this delicious recipe of slow-roasted pork belly with braised fennel.   Pork belly is simply uncured bacon and some years ago was served frequently in fashionable restaurants.  It is still offered, but I have yet to find anything this delicious.  Jaime suggests that the salsa verde is optional but it is the perfect foil for the pork belly.  Cooking time is 3 1/2 hours so plan accordingly.

Important Note:  Experienced Italian cooks know that you should only use male fennel when using them for cooking or making a salad.   Sex bias legislation in the United States prohibits favoring male fennel over female fennel and, as such, they are grouped together in a bin in the vegetable section.  A male fennel has a full round bulb and is generally shorter than his elongated female companion with a thin bulb.  A male fennel is packed with more flavor and far more sturdier when served in salads.  Be a discriminating fennel shopper and always buy male bulbs.

Slow-Roasted Pork Belly with Braised Fennel

Ingredients (serves 6 to 8)

  • 4 1/2 pounds of pork belly on the bone, preferably free-range or organic (we used 3 pounds w/o bone)
  • 2 Tbsp fennel seed (or 1 tsp of fennel pollen which is far more concentrated)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 bulbs fennel (male fennel, please see above), each cut into sixths, herby tops removed and reserved
  • 1 bunch small fresh thyme, leaves picked
  • 5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • olive oil

Ingredients for Salsa Verde (optional but highly recommended)

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • Handful capers, drained
  • Handful gherkins, drained and finely chopped
  • 6 good anchovy filets in oil, finely chopped
  • 2 bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Good-quality extra-virgin oil oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation

  • Preheat your oven to its maximum temperature.  Score the skin of the pork belly with a sharp knife (see photo above)
  • In a pestle and mortar, bash up the fennel seeds with a Tbs of salt until you have a powder, then massage it into the scores of the skin.
  • In a roasting pan, toss the fresh fennel with the thyme, garlic, a good splash of oil and some salt and pepper.  Place the pork belly on top of the fennel and put into the preheated oven.
  • After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 325º and roast the port for one additional hour.  By jolting the temperature right up at the beginning and then turning it down, you will start the crackling off nicely, the meat can then continue to cook slowly.
  • If you plan to use the salsa verde make it now.   Finely chop the garlic and put in a bowl.  Add the capers, gherkins, anchovies, parsley, basil and mint.  Mix in the mustard and 1 to 2 Tbs of red wine vinegar, then 3 good lugs of olive oil, adding more if needed to make a loose mixture.  Balance the flavors with pepper and, if necessary, salt and a little more red wine vinegar.
  • When the hour is up cooking the pork belly, take the tray out of the oven, pour away any excess fat, add the white wine and pop back in the oven for another hour.
  • Now remove the fennel and keep warm while you put the port back in the a final hour until the skin is golden and crisp and the meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender.  If the wine starts to evaporate during this time, add a splash more, or a touch of water to loosen and make a light gravy.
  • Allow the port to rest for 10 minutes and you’ll have a beautiful read-made gravy and lovely sweet, soft fennel.  Carve the meat into large chunks and serve with the gravy, salsa verde (if using) and the reserved fennel tops sprinkled on top.

Hey, this is a wow dish if you are in to eating Miss Piggy!