My aunt Patty was the first great home cook I ever knew. She would get up at 5am, run a few miles, come home, make a big pot of coffee, and start making the gooiest, butteriest challah french toast you’ve ever seen. (At holiday time, she made it with egg nog. And she always added a dash of vanilla, a tradition we’ve continued with our own kids.) She’d clean up breakfast, and start in on lunch: maybe a wild rice salad with cranberries, maybe some egg salad sandwiches with onion and celery, maybe some chicken Milanese (she dredged in corn flakes crumbs). She’d clean up lunch, and start in on dinner. She’d stuff roasts with egg and pancetta and marinate butterflied legs of lamb in great, plastic tubs; she’d make fresh ricotta cheesecakes and tiramisu with real lady fingers and freshly whipped cream; and she would always, always turn down any offers of help. “Cooking is my therapy,” she’d say, tossing another pot onto the pile in the sink, and I remember not believing her.
Of all the things Patty would cook for us when we visited, there was one meal I looked forward to more than any other. It was based on a recipe from a woman named Marcella Hazan, a name that meant nothing to me at the time. Patty called it “pork in milk,” and she would make it just for me; it got to the point where I could sniff it out the moment I walked into her house.
“Pork in milk?” I’d say.
“How’d you know?” she’d respond.
When it was ready, she would take the pork out of the pot and slice it, put it on a platter, and bury it in mounds of nutty, slightly disconcerting-looking, sweet-smelling clusters of milk — the remnants of the braising liquid — that she spooned over the top. “Make sure you get enough clusters!” she’d say. “They’re the best part. Do you have enough? Here, take more!” I assumed, because she was Patty and because everything she did in the kitchen appeared to be designed for maximum complexity, that this “pork in milk” was difficult to make.
Turns out, it’s not.
“Pork in milk” is now one of our go-to weekend meals (and also one of the dishes enshrined on our recipe door). Our oldest daughter eats it with clusters, the younger one without, but they both eat it — and happily — which is a victory in and of itself. As for the difficulty: it’s seven ingredients and one pot, with a total hands-on time of maybe five minutes. — Andy
Pork Loin Braised in Milk
(adapted from The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 pound pork loin
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (Hazan does not call for this, but we like a hint of it)
2 1/2 cups whole milk
Heat butter and oil over medium high heat in a casserole that is barely bigger than the roast itself. (I use a 2 3/4 quart Le Creuset like the one above, and it’s a pretty snug fit with a two-pound roast.) Brown the meat on all sides. Add salt, pepper, milk and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and leave the lid slightly ajar. Cook slowly for about 2 hours, turning and basting the meat from time to time. If necessary — and it’s usually not — you can add a little more milk. By the time the meat is cooked, the milk will have coagulated into small, brownish clusters. Remove the meat to a cutting board, carve, and arrange on platter. Add 2 or 3 tbsp warm water to the pot, turn the heat to high, and boil away the water while scraping and loosening all the cooking residue in a pot. Spoon the sauce over the pork and serve with sauteed shaved brussels and roasted potatoes.