It may have come to your attention that Valentine’s Day is upon us again. My reaction to the sea of helium balloons, fluffy teddy bears, reduced priced fizz, enormous boxes of chocolates and red roses in the shops is to say ‘stuff it’…
Not just because I’m a grumpy 30-something woman who happens to be single, but because I found some suckling pig hearts from wild boar at the farmers’ market last week and felt my customary urge to make and use stuffing coming on again, especially since it would be somewhat apt this week.
The cold weather at the moment makes it the perfect opportunity to make long slow cooked meals rich with flavour and red wine and served with roasted seasonal veg and after a trip to The Fruit Garden in Herne Hill where I came across some excellent beetroot and the new-to-me salsify, I had the makings of an excellent meal for one.
I tackled the hearts first. Really quite small, I got 4 in the packet (and again a spare kidney as when I bought trotters from the same stall. I still didn’t know what to do with it.) and started by snipping out any tubular bits that freaked me out a bit and making sure there was space to stuff them. I whipped up a basic stuffing using some Ryvita (or breadcrumbs), garlic, red onion, capers, anchovy ketchup and parmesan, bound together with a splash of spare egg white and filled the hearts carefully. They don’t hold much but it will flavour them amazingly. I sealed the hearts in a hot pan, then added a hefty slug of red wine and tomato juice and popped them in the oven at 160℃ for two hours.
Heart is a muscle, and a bit like squid, should either be cooked for 30 seconds on a hot pan or more than 30 minutes at a low temperature. Leave it to simmer slowly and fill the kitchen with delicious aromas and get on with other stuff or simply relax. You just can’t overcook these even if your date is late and they can be transferred to the hob for the last 30 minutes at a gentle heat if you need to turn the oven up to roast your beetroot.
While both were cooking, I turned my attention to the salsify. Looking more like liquorice root than any other vegetable I’ve come across, I wasn’t sure what to do with this and contemplating roasting it, but saw that most suggestions featured boiling and then sauteeing in butter so never one to turn down butter, I opted for that. You need to peel the salsify before cooking and I’d recommend wearing some latex gloves to do this as it exudes a sticky grainy sap that was really hard to get off my hands even with vigorous washing. The root also discolours very quickly so if preparing in advance soak it in water and lemon juice. Boil until soft and then sautee in butter. Known as the oyster plant, salsify likes anise flavours so add some chervil or tarragon and a splash of oyster sauce to really enhance the flavour of this delicate root.
I served the pork hearts and vegetables with a splash of the now greatly reduced and highly flavoursome red wine and tomato sauce before tucking in. The hearts were incredibly tender from their long slow braising and the stuffing added bags of delicious umami flavour that made the whole dish taste much less spartan than offal can feel. The sweet beets complimented nicely and the salsify impressed me with its lovely fresh texture and subtle taste. I can’t say I noticed any hint of oyster, but it might be similarly aphrodisiac if eaten in the correct company!
This was a lovely meal. Very seasonal, very inexpensive and very flavoursome. It’s the first time I’ve cooked heart and while I’m always delighted to have more things to add to my repetoire of stuffed items, I’m so impressed with braising heart that I might work up to something bigger in future if I do have someone to woo with a candlelight supper for two…