French chef Michel Roux’s single-subject cookbooks are wonderfully informative, beautifully photographed and packed with recipes you’ll make over and over. Pick up Roux’s latest collection, Cheese, and prepare to cook with one of humanity’s favorite ingredients like never before. This pork belly confit with pappardelle and a sprinkling of Greek cheese is one of the most satisfying plates of pasta we’ve ever had.
I had the pleasure of sampling this rustic, flavorful dish in Greece. If you cannot obtain Mizithra cheese, use Kefalotyri or Percorino Romano instead. The pork belly, should you have any left over, is delicious cut into thick lardons and pan-fried, then added to a salad of frisée or dandelion leaves, with a little strong cheese crumbled over. You need to start preparing this dish at least 24 hours in advance.
- About 2 pounds pork belly, well layered with fat
- 1 Orange
- 1 lemon
- 4 thyme sprigs
- Scant 1/2 cup oil from the semi-confit cherry tomatoes
- 1 2/3 cups cold water
- 3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons light olive oil
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons tomato puree
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Greek flower cheese or ricotta
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Mizithra (Greek fresh sheep or goat's cheese)
- 1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sultanas, blanched for 1 minute and drained
- 1/2 apple, preferably Granny Smith, cut into fine julienne
- 10 sage leaves, snipped
- 1 pound dried pappardelle
- 10 semi-confit cherry tomatoes
- freshly ground pepper
Semi-Confit Cherry Tomatoes (makes 10-14 cherry tomatoes)
- 3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons light olive oil
- 1 thyme sprig
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 garlic clove, peeled
- 10-14 cherry tomatoes
For the tomatoes
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and add the thyme, bay leaf, garlic and cherry tomatoes. Lower the heat and confit until the tomato skins are just starting to show signs of splitting – about 8–10 minutes, depending on size and ripeness. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Transfer the tomatoes to a jar or bowl, and pour over the oil. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. The semi-confit tomatoes will keep well in their oil in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
For the pork belly
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Rinse the pork belly in cold water. Pat dry then, using a very sharp knife, make incisions, 1/4-inch deep, in several places through the rind, to assist the cooking.
Finely pare the zest from the orange and lemon and set aside. Slice the orange and lemon across into rounds, about 1/4-inch thick, then spread the slices out in a shallow roasting dish and scatter over the thyme sprigs.
Lightly oil the pork rind, using some of the cooled oil from the semiconfit cherry tomatoes – dipping your fingers into the oil and using them to spread it. Place the pork, rind side up, on top of the citrus slices, then pour the cold water into the dish (not over the meat).
Roast for 30 minutes, then lower the oven setting to 300°F and baste the pork rind with the cooking juices. Roast for a further 2 hours, basting every 30 minutes with the cooking juices.
Remove the pork from the oven and set aside to cool in the cooking juices. Once cooled, carefully transfer to a baking sheet or large ceramic dish. Cover with cling film then place a tray on top of the pork and weight it down so that the tray presses heavily down on the pork. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, and up to 48 hours.
Strain the pork cooking juices into a pan through a fine chinois and let bubble to reduce until thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon; set aside for the sauce.
For the tomato sauce, put 3/4 cup olive oil, tomato purée, garlic, flower or ricotta cheese and 1/2 cup of the Mizithra cheese in a food processor or blender and blitz for 1–2 minutes until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Heat the remaining tomato confit oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion, then after 1 minute add the wine vinegar. Let bubble to reduce by half then add the reduced pork juices, tomato sauce and sultanas and simmer over a gentle heat for 15 minutes. Finally, add the apple and sage.
Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil and salt well. Add the pappardelle and cook for 7–9 minutes until al dente (cooked but firm to the bite).
While the pasta is cooking, heat the confit cherry tomatoes through over a gentle heat for a few minutes.
Drain the pappardelle as soon as it is ready, then tip it into the sauce in the pan and mix lightly. Add the semi-confit tomatoes and fork through gently.
Using a knife, remove a section of the pork rind then, using a fork, shred the pork flesh by scraping it out with the ends of the fork. Add the shredded pork to the pasta and sauce and mix through gently with the fork. Season with pepper to taste; there should be no need to add salt.
To serve, crumble over the remaining 1/4 cup Mizithra cheese, and sprinkle with the reserved orange and lemon zest. Serve at once, straight from the pan, so everyone can help themselves.