Midsummer is the peak of the garlic season all across the United States. Last month, Gilroy, Calif., was the epicenter of all things garlic as that small town 30 miles south of San Jose hosted the 35th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.
The festivals centerpiece attraction each year is the Great Garlic Cook-Off. Eight amateur chefs take to the stage to wow the judges with their original creations. First place winner goes home with a crown of garlic and a $5,000 cash prize.
Jamie Brown-Miller of Napa, Calif., says Gilroy is the Holy Grail in the world of amateur competitive chefs. It doesnt hurt that garlic is a favorite flavor for so many people.
Garlic is the perfect ingredient. It makes anything that much more flavorful and the flavors linger on your tongue. It can be a subtle undercurrent or right in your face. I love, love, love garlic, she said.
Laureen Pittman, last years first-place winner, says shes addicted to competition and blogs about her obsession at www.livelaughcookeat.com. Ive been in the Pillsbury Bake-Off twice, and a bunch of others, but Gilroy is the one everybody wants to win, she said. Shed entered several times before she landed on her award-winning combination of pork belly served with a sweet-and-sour sauce and polenta.
Weve adapted this recipe from the 2012 top prize winner Crispy Pork Belly with Caramelized Onion and Fig Agrodolce and Creamy Polenta by Pittman of Riverside, Calif.
Pork belly is a favorite in restaurant kitchens but not so easy for the home cook to find. Weve substituted a fresh ham steak and given it a similar treatment to the pork belly. Note this is fresh, uncured ham. Its the cut from the back end of the ham, and not the smoked cured ham you serve at Easter.
You could also use Boston butt, or for a quicker version, substitute pork tenderloin, sliced into medallions and seared with garlic, then finished in a hot oven.
CRISPY PORK WITH FIG CHUTNEY AND CREAMY POLENTA
Hands on: 30 minutes; total time: 5 hours, 30 minutes; serves: 8
3 pounds boneless fresh ham steak
1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup polenta or coarse yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for searing pork
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
7 ounces dried figs, tough stems removed, chopped
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup apple juice
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place ham in a small roasting pan. Add garlic and 4 cups broth. Note: add only enough broth to just cover the meat. Depending on the size of your pan, you may not need all 4 cups. If you need more liquid, add water. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake 4 hours or until meat is completely tender. Remove from oven and allow ham to cool in liquid 1 hour.
While ham is cooling, make polenta. In a large saucepan, combine remaining 2 cups broth, milk and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat slightly and add polenta or cornmeal in a thin stream, stirring constantly. When all polenta or cornmeal has been added, reduce heat to low and simmer polenta 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano and keep warm.
While polenta is cooking, making fig chutney. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Stir in figs, vinegar, wine, apple juice, honey and rosemary and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and syrupy, 30 minutes. Keep warm.
When ready to serve, remove pork from broth and set aside. Discard broth.
Heat a large skillet over high heat and film with olive oil. Divide pork into 8 portions and sear top and bottom of each portion.
While pork is browning, divide polenta between serving plates. Top with seared pork. Divide fig chutney between serving plates and serve immediately.
Per serving: 668 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 35 grams protein, 71 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 29 grams fat (10 grams saturated), 98 milligrams cholesterol, 582 milligrams sodium.