Jasper White jetted from summer to winter in half a day. The owner-chef of Jasper's restaurant in Boston returned home from the American Cuisine Symposium in San Francisco in September, and while chefs all over the country were talking about grilled fish, he realized it was time to think about pork.
"It's autumn here, and it's chilly," said White. His customers had started to order cognac and port after dinner. So he began putting together the season's menu to include escarole and bean soup, duck confit and speckled heart grits with rabbit. It wasn't yet threatening to snow but, explained White, "We kind of get psychologically prepared for winter up here."
That suits White well, as his cooking style takes advantage of full, deep flavors and suits hearty foods. Though Jasper's restaurant has a light and pretty look, and is decorated with baby orchids and trees strung with tiny lights, the food bridges the gap between new-style lightness and the meat-and-potatoes appetite.
And White has a new mission: to redeem pork on the American menu.
This is not plain old pork, though, it is New Pork. Piglets. Larger than suckling pigs -- the more developed 35-pound porkers White buys in Vermont. Pork's answer to miniature vegetables.
Unlike miniature vegetables, though, piglets met resistance. "It's only in the past two years that I've been able to sell pig in the restaurant," he said. Among other hesitations, some diners voiced concern over being able to match pork with wine. White himself likes it with pinot noir or burgundy.
He cuts the piglets into fresh ham, loin and ribs, and turns the rest of the meat into Italian-style sausage. The cracklings he roasts slowly for a couple of hours. He brines the ham mildly, just for one day, then roasts it and the loin.
The bones, with extra scraps for flavor, go into a stock for the sauce. He browns them with with carrots, onions and garlic until the meat is nearly falling apart, almost a stew. His aim is to make a sauce as dark and rich as gravy. White adds no wine because, he says, "I try not to adulterate the flavor." If it needs a little acidity, he splashes in a bit of vinegar. And though he wants the flavor of a gravy, he keeps the texture light and does not thicken it at all.
And all of it -- lightly cured ham, loin, ribs, sausage and cracklings -- goes on one plate, accompanied by spiced pear fritters or with cabbage strudel, which he considers an exceptional side dish for pork or a fine main dish on its own.
That is clearly cold-weather dining.
Also this season White has begun to serve snails, now that he can get them fresh from Sonoma County, Calif. He cooks them as a fricassee, "like a little stew, with leeks, garlic, bacon and chanterelles."
Once White had encouraged his Boston-traditionalist customers to eat piglet and fresh snails, he took on the challenge of grits, not just any grits but coarse stone-ground whole-grain "speckled heart" grits from Calloway Gardens in Georgia. These days his menu has them as a souffle-light cake with a crusty surface, sauced with diced rabbit and vegetables. "It's not easy to get people from Boston to eat grits," he confided.
Jasper's Boston location dictates some attention be paid to seafood, of course: lobster, halibut, scallops, bluefish. He pan roasts the lobster, though, with herbs and grilled fennel, and braises his halibut to a silky softness. He teams halibut with chanterelles, scallops with tomato and mint, bluefish with garlic fettuccine. What White does exceptionally with meats is to char them to crustiness -- as in his grilled duck salad with spiced pecans, and his charred loin of lamb with eggplant fingers.
As in the culinary mecca of California, the new American restaurants around the country are using the freshest seasonal local ingredients combined with a pioneer spirit. But Jasper's shows how that sensibility is adapted to each place, in this case to fuel a Bostonian to face the New England chill. Tabletalk When your mother lives a long-distance call away, or the Food Section phone is always busy, and you don't know whether your cottage cheese is still good, the Food Marketing Institute can come to your aid. It has a free chart, "The Food Keeper," which lists storage times in refrigerator, pantry or freezer for dozens of foods. For a free copy, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to FMI, 1750 K St. NW., Washington, D. C. 20006. Chocolate, according to "The Food Keeper," will keep one to two years. Long-stemmed roses are lucky to stay alive two weeks. For romantic occasions with staying power, then, send long-stemmed chocolate roses, $3.50 to $4 each or $25 a dozen (which comes in a shiny brown florist-style box), either milk or bittersweet. They are made by Chocolate Whimsey, Inc., P.O. Box 9106, McLean, Va. 22102-0106. Telephone (703) 827-8297. And they are being sold now at about 250 stores nationwide -- such gift shops as Fifth Avenue Greetings in New York; Bullocks Wilshire in Los Angeles; Four Seasons Hotel Gift Shop, Essentially Chocolate and Thank You I Love It in Washington; Just For You in Fort Lauderdale; Very European in New Orleans; Miller and Rhoads in Richmond; Parchment and Presents in Cincinatti, and Season's Best in Tyler, Tex. They looked too good to be true, the new R.W. Knudsen's "Chewy Fruit" bars, with a label that reads: "100% natural dried fruit & nuts. No sugar added." If you read the label closely, however, you'll find that doesn't mean they are unsweetened, but simply that honey has been added instead. JASPER WHITE'S CABBAGE STRUDEL (8 to 10 servings)
1 small head of cabbage
1 cup white wine
8 tablespoons butter, more if necessary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 pound bacon, finely diced from smoked slab
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium granny smith apple, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Rind from 1/2 lemon (use juice to keep apples white)
1/4 cup uncooked rice
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon chopped capers
12 to 16 ounces strudel dough (phyllo may be substituted)
Cut out stem of whole cabbage. Dip into boiling water to aid in carefully removing the individual leaves. Cut out any core or thick part of leaves.
Put leaves in a large pan. Pour in white wine. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons butter. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover tightly and place in a 325-degree oven for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve cabbage.
Saute' bacon to render fat. Add onion and cook until lightly caramelized. Add apple and continue cooking for 3 to 4 more minutes. Remove from heat and mix in caraway, lemon rind, rice, molasses, vinegar, capers and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
If using strudel dough, on a floured cloth or napkin, roll out dough to approximately 18 inches by 24 inches. Layer the cabbage over the bottom half of the rectangle. Spread onion mixture evenly over the cabbage. Brush the entire rectangle of dough lightly with about 3 tablespoons melted butter, using more butter if necessary.
Roll into a long spiral by lifting the cloth slowly, allowing the strudel to roll itself up. Keep stretching the sides while rolling. Pinch off the ends to seal.
If using phyllo dough, layer leaves into 2 stacks, brushing each layer with melted butter. Layer half of cabbage over each stack of phyllo, then spread half of onion mixture evenly over each. Roll up, tucking in the ends of the dough as you go.
Brush surface of strudel or phyllo with 3 tablespoons melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Slice into 1-inch slices.