IT'S SATURDAY morning, and we're expecting eight at 5 o'clock for an early summer supper. Selfishly, I've chosen a menu that will serve us deliciously through next week. If the company eats well tonight, why shouldn't we in the days to come?
This morning I braise pork shoulder with smoky chipotle peppers and orange juice, then shred the tender meat to be served later on toasted brioche rolls with grated pepper jack cheese. A tart cucumber pickle (sliced cucumbers and red onions marinated in two parts apple cider vinegar, one part water and one part sugar), a rustic casserole of summer squash, tomatoes and sweet corn, and peach bread pudding studded with fat golden raisins will round out the meal.
The trick to keeping the preparations from lasting all day is to start the pork early. So I picked up the pork shoulder from the butcher the night before, seared it and left it to sit in its chipotle-orange marinade all night. Before I head out to the market this morning, I scoot the pork into the oven where it begins braising before I've even left the house.
Knowing the pork is already on its way, I'm in no rush at the market. I pick out the juiciest, fire-engine-red tomatoes, ears of fresh corn and all manner of bright summer squashes to make the vegetable casserole; a few handfuls of coarse breadcrumbs, a shredded hunk of Gruyère and a few spoonfuls of sour cream will make the rich base for these vegetables later.
After the market, I walk back into the house, and the kitchen smells delicious. I'm just in time to turn the pork over and baste it with the spicy-sweet juices. Back into the oven it goes. It needs a couple more hours to finish cooking -- just the right amount of time to get the vegetable casserole and bread pudding together.
There's no mistaking it -- Saturday morning is my finest hour, and I'm enjoying it even more than usual because of the season. Tell me there isn't something therapeutic about cutting up crisp, fragrant summer vegetables one after one. As I chop, I daydream about early next week, long after the company's gone, when we'll scramble eggs with the leftover vegetable casserole for lunch and eat the bread pudding topped with dollops of tangy yogurt for breakfast. I can smell the squash going golden in a bit of olive oil on the stove as I imagine the leftover pork in juicy tacos and quick summer salads when we toss it with greens and a few of the remaining cucumber pickles.
Out comes the pork. I keep it covered, letting the steam inside finish cooking it to familiar, buttery tenderness before I shred it for the evening's sandwiches, which I'll serve with the pickled cucumbers on the side in a quiet nod to North Carolina's vinegar-rich barbecue.
The chunky casserole and bread pudding go into the oven at the same temperature -- a trick I always use to keep time spent cooking for a crowd from encroaching on the entire day. This buys me an hour or so to tend to the thirsty plants on the porch and to my growling stomach. I'm convinced that no one will mind if a corner of the bread pudding is missing tonight. There will be plenty of leftovers, right?