For this dish I love Tarbais beans, the kind traditionally used in French cassoulets, because they hold their shape but are also so creamy, but sometimes they are hard to find. Cannellini are easier to find and fabulous as well. Cooking a pot of dry beans is a must, since they are 1/3 of the dish.
1 boneless pork shoulder (3 1/2 pound), tied and trimmed from excess fat (ask your butcher to do this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large carrots
2 celery ribs celery
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 cup white wine, optional
3 cups whole milk
3 large lemon zest strips
3 sage sprigs
3 thyme sprigs
3 bay leaves
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 bunch kale, ribs removed 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup reserved braising milk
To braise the pork:
Pull the pork out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before cooking. Generously salt it and let it rest on your kitchen counter. You want the pork to loose its chill before braising it.
Peel your lemon and set aside.
Roughly chop your carrots and celery into 2 inch pieces. Chop the onion and finely chop or press the garlic. The veggies can all go in the same bowl. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 325°
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or other deep, heavy, oven-safe pot. Add the pork, brown it on one side for about 5-7 minutes, then flip it to brown the other side. Once the pork is well browned on both sides, transfer it to a large plate and set aside. If it looks like there is a lot of fat left in your pot, discard all but about 2 Tablespoons of it. If it looks like just about 2 Tablespoons or a smidge more don't bother. It doesn't have to be exact.
Return the pot to medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, garlic and onions. Cook until they begin to soften— about 8 minutes.
Add the wine and cook for 2-3 minutes. Scrapping any brown bits of flavor from the bottom of the pot.
Add the pork and any juices on the plate. Add the milk, zest, sage, thyme, bay leaves. Stir the baking soda into the milk ( a trick I learned a long time ago from Cook’s Illustrated to help everything brown better).
Bring everything to a simmer, cover with foil or a tight fitting lid, and place in the oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours then turn the pork and cook until the pork is incredibly tender- about another 1 1/2 hours.
When the pork is done carefully take it out of the oven and using tongs remove it from the pot and place it on a plate. You don’t have to do this right away, you can also let it sit for 10 minutes until it cools down a bit, if that makes it easier to handle.
Strain the milk and solids through a strainer and reserve 1 cup of the braising milk.
To cook the kale:
Set a large pot of water to boil. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Remove the ribs from the kale, rinse, and set aside. Rinse the kale leaves.
Slice the ribs as fine as possible and add them to the pot of water even if it is not boiling yet. There is no need to create food waste and throw the ribs out— they just need more time to cook than the leaves and add a little welcomed texture to the dish.
Stack the kale leaves, slice them, then chop them. Add the chopped leaves to the boiling water and cook them for 10 minutes. Drain the kale and leave it in the colander cooling.
Once the kale is cool enough to handle squeeze all the excess water out with an old, but very clean kitchen towel.
If your braising milk has cooled reheat it in a small saucepan until warm. This will ensure your béchamel will be smooth and lump free.
Wipe dry the pan you used for cooking the kale and melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes. While still whisking, stream in the warm milk. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Turn off the stove and move the pot to a cool burner. Taste the béchamel . Adjust the salt. Stir in the kale.
I like to pull the pork apart a bit, not quite shredded, and serve it on a bed of the beans with the creamed spinach on top of the pork almost like a sauce or garnish, but the pork can also be sliced and served with the beans and kale on the side. Think about what you think will look nice and how it will feel pleasurable to eat it.