Savory Pork & Fennel Baklava

By Sabrina Ghayour • March 27, 2018 1 Comments

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Author Notes: Recipe excerpted from "Feasts: Middle Eastern Food to Savor & Share" by Sabrina Ghayour (Weldon Owen, 2018).Sabrina Ghayour

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Makes 9 squares

For the baklava

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder or 2 1/2-lb bone-in pork shoulder (leftover roast pork, lamb, or chicken also work well)
  • 1 pinch Maldon sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 1/4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1 splash olive oil, more to taste
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 2/3 cups tomato passata
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 sheets of phyllo pastry
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon nigella seeds, to garnish

For the syrup

  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
  • Zest from 1 unwaxed orange
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
  2. Put the pork into a roasting pan. Season the pork all over with a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Put the pork in the oven on the upper rack and roast for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, covering the meat with aluminum foil for the final hour of cooking. Leave to cool in the pan.
  3. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Put the cherry tomato halves with their cut sides facing up on the prepared sheet. Roast the tomatoes on the lower rack, under the pork, until nicely burnished around the edges, about 1 3/4 hours. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.
  4. Pick all the meat from the cooled pork shoulder and discard the fat and any skin. Shred the meat lightly with a knife and set aside.
  5. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat, add the fennel seeds, and toast, shaking the pan until they release their aroma and begin to brown a little, about 1 minute, taking care not to let them burn. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, then add the onion and fry until translucent and the edges start to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and shredded pork, then the passata, honey, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Stir well, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently for a few minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to a gravy-like consistency. Do not allow the sauce to become too dry—you want it to have a bit of moisture for a baklava. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool until the mixture is just warm.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Brush the base of a 10- or 12-inch square cake pan or ovenproof dish generously with some of the melted butter.
  7. Line the base of the prepared pan with 4 sheets of phyllo pastry—2 lengthwise, 2 crosswise—allowing an equal amount of pastry to overhang each side of the pan. Brush the pastry with some of the melted butter. Spoon half the pork mixture into the pan and spread it evenly across the pastry. Scatter over half the cherry tomatoes and half of the crumbled feta. Fold 1 of the remaining pastry sheets to make a rough square shape and use to cover the layer of filling. Brush the pastry layer with some of the melted butter. Now repeat the process using the remaining pork mixture, tomatoes, and feta.
  8. Fold over the overhanging pastry and brush with melted butter. Take the remaining pastry sheet, fold it into a square shape slightly larger than the surface, and cover the top. Tuck the pastry edges down the sides of the pan using a round-bladed knife or similar, then brush the top liberally with the remaining melted butter. Using a very sharp knife, cut the top layers of pastry as neatly as possible either into 9 squares or, by cutting in diagonal lines, into diamond shapes (do this now, as it will be impossible to cut neatly after cooking). Bake until deep golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, make the syrup. Put the 3/4 cup of boiling water into a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, then add the superfine sugar and dissolve it in the hot water. Add the orange zest and cayenne pepper, if using, stir well, then simmer gently until the mixture reduces to a syrup and can coat the back of a spoon, 10 to 15 minutes.
  10. When the baklava is cooked, remove it from the oven and immediately pour the syrup evenly over the top, then scatter over the nigella seeds to garnish. Leave for 15 minutes to absorb the syrup before serving. To serve, either remove the whole baklava from the pan using a fish knife, transfer to a serving platter, and cut it at the table, or cut individual portions straight from the pan and serve with a green salad.

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