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 Gruyere 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?
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Season the pork with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper, place it in the skillet and sear, turning occasionally, until deep golden brown all over, about 15 minutes total.
Meanwhile, put the broth, juice, vinegar, zest, adobo sauce, cumin, garlic, chiles, onions, one-half teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper into a blender; puree until smooth.
Transfer the pork to a large, deep casserole dish and set aside. Pour the excess fat out of the skillet. Carefully pour about 1 cup of the chipotle-orange puree into the skillet and cook briefly, scraping up any browned bits. Pour the contents of the skillet over the pork along with remaining chipotle-orange puree. Scatter the bay leaves and thyme in the casserole; cover tightly with foil. Top with a tight- fitting lid; bake for 2 1/2 hours.
Carefully uncover the pork and flip over the roast. Baste it with the juices, then re-cover with the foil and lid and return to the oven. Continue cooking until very tender, about 2 hours more. Set aside, covered, for about 30 minutes, then uncover and pour the contents of the casserole into a colander set over a large bowl; discard bay leaves and thyme.
When cool enough to handle, tear the pork into shreds, discarding any fat, and transfer to a large bowl. Skim off and discard fat from the juices, then add the juices to the shredded meat and toss well. Pile the pork onto brioche rolls and top with grated cheese, if desired.
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