Jules and I returned from a few weeks in France at the end of last month, and every time we come back to the States, my heart aches. It’s not that I don’t like it here, but there is something about being in the French countryside that really resonates with my soul. I’ve never considered myself a huge nature person, or even someone who enjoys the solitude and tranquility of country life, but when we’re driving through the small roads in the Dordogne, I surprise myself with how much I love it. Tunnels made of trees, castles peeking out from behind shrubbery, vineyards as far as the eye can see…I understand how this can spark inspiration in people. I mean look at this view from a garden on top of a hill!
A lot has changed since my last entry. We moved further north at the end of March, to a small town called Petaluma in Northern California. It’s just under an hour’s drive from San Francisco, but it feels worlds away. This is as “country” as I’ve ever lived, where the vegetables we’re eating are grown anywhere from 5-45 minutes away. I’m finally beginning to see the merits of living outside of San Francisco, admittedly, and I am glad we moved. At our local farmers market, we can get fresh eggs from pastured hens for $5 a dozen (compared to the $9 I paid at Whole Foods before), we talk to the cheese makers and bread artisans about their goods, and we’re getting to know our produce purveyors. In this area, the vendors seem more eager to have a conversation, versus just ringing you up for your things and sending you on your way. With our new place comes a huge kitchen, which lends itself to more cooking – so I’m back in front of the stove and feeling inspired by all the fresh, local ingredients that are readily available. One of my favorite features of our new town is Thistle Meat Company, a real butcher shop in downtown Petaluma that makes a lot of their own charcuterie and carries excellent cuts of meat. It was here that bought pork caul fat, a web-like ingredient used to bind together patés and other delicate items that could use more structure, like these meatballs from Ardeche called “caillettes“. From what I know, these come from a region that was poor so they added vegetables to their meatballs as filler. I don’t remember where I even learned about this dish (presumably something I saw on TV) but we had a bunch of greens that needed to be used so I thought this would be perfect. The basic framework for this dish is below, but you can adapt this to your own tastes or what ingredients are available to you.
1.5 lb of ground pork
2 bunches (or more) of greens of your choice: chard, kale, spinach, cabbage
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tsp. sea salt
ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
pork caul fat (about 1 lb. should be enough) – soak in water for at least 2 hours prior to using.
Preheat the oven to 395F /200C.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch your greens then plunge into an ice bath, then squeeze them to extract as much water as possible. I do this by wrapping the blanched greens in a clean kitchen towel and twisting the ends until all the water runs out. Finely chop your greens and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, put the ground pork, chopped onions, chopped parsley, salt, chopped greens, eggs, and black pepper. Mix by hand until the ingredients are well incorporated. In order to taste the seasoning, take a little bit and pan fry it to see if there is enough salt/pepper. Season to taste, then clear a work area to form your meatballs.
Take a piece of caul fat, lay it out on a board, then scoop about a palmful of meat mixture into a ball shape and lay it on the fat. Carefully wrap it with the fat, and place into a baking dish, seam side down, so that they are barely touching each other. Don’t worry if they do touch, they will shrink a little when cooking and separate. The fat will keep the meatballs moist and will melt a little.
Bake for 45 minutes, turning once. I like them to get really brown, so I will usually turn on the broiler for 5 minutes on each side or so to get them to the correct color. Serve with a salad for lunch or dinner, or, if you want to eat them traditionally as the Ardéchoise used to do – have them for breakfast!