Tom Philpott - July 2012

Tom's Kitchen: Grilled Pork Tacos With Peach Salsa and Charred-Tomato Gazpacho

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

In the Austin summer, the phrase "outdoor cooking" sounds as much like a weather report as it does a culinary activity. Last year, temperatures in Austin exceeded 100 degrees no fewer than 90 times—shattering the previous record of 69 days set in 1925. Just last week ago, the temperature hit 109 degrees—an all-time record for June.

But under a big shade tree in the early evening, when the sun has waned and the temperature has dropped to, oh, 95 degrees, firing up the grill remains an appealing option. It gets you out of the house—and frees you from heating up the house with a bunch of cooking.

That's exactly what I did recently, and in classic Tom's Kitchen style, I kept it really simple. I got hold of a few pasture-raised pork loins, plus some tomatoes and peaches, all grown here in central Texas. I looked south to Mexico for inspiration.

Grilled Pork Tacos With Peach Salsa and Spicy Gazpacho
Serves 4

For Pork
2 pounds pasture-raised pork loin (4 loins)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo, from a can
The grated zest of one lime
Herbs such as a bit of fresh or dried oregano and/or thyme (optional—I didn't have any on hand)
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

For Salsa
4 ripe peaches
1 small clove of garlic
1-2 fresh hot chile peppers, such as serranos
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
The lime you zested for the pork marinade

For gazpacho
6 medium, ripe tomatoes
A few thick slices of red onion
1 clove of garlic, crushed and peeled
1-2 serrano peppers
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

To serve
13 corn tortillas
8-10 lime slices

First, make the marinade—at least 2 hours in advance of cooking, and preferably, the night before. Put the garlic, chipotle peppers, lime zest, a generous pinch of salt, and a vigorous grind of black pepper in a food processor or blender. With the machine whirring, add a thin stream of olive oil to the mix, blending until you have a smooth emulsion. You may have to stop and scrape down the sides of the blender or processor, and puree again, to get everything smooth. Taste the marinade. It should be good and salty—the salt will help carry the flavors inside the meat. Adjust accordingly.

Place the pork loins in a sturdy plastic bag large enough to hold them—or if you don't have one big enough, divide them into two smaller ones—and dump the marinade on top, dividing it over the two if necessary. Seal the bag(s), rinse them, wash your hands, and then massage the pork gently through the plastic, distributing the marinade as evenly as possible. Place the bag(s) in a bowl in the fridge until about an hour before you're ready to cook.

Next, on the same day as you're grilling, make the peach salsa. Peel the peaches, remove the flesh from the stone, chop it coarsely, and add it to a serving bowl. Mince the garlic and one off the two serrano chiles very fine, adding a pinch of salt to them as you mince to break them down as much as possible into a paste. Add them to the bowl with the peaches. Add a glug of olive oil and a good squeeze of lime, and then stir to combine. Taste. If you want more of a kick, break down the other chile like you did the first one, and add half of it. Taste. Adjust for seasoning, adding more salt, chile, or lime if necessary, and set aside.

Now prepare your grill. I use a simple Weber model with one of those chimney charcoal starters, stocked with  lump hardwood charcoal. When the coals are white hot, I make a hot side and a cool side by mounding most of the coals on one side of the grill pit and spreading just a few out across the other. When I've placed the grill atop the carefully arranged coals, I wipe it with a clean rag dipped in cooking oil, and give it a few minutes to get hot.

Lay the loins, close together but not touching, on the hot side of the grill. They should sizzle when they hit the surface. Let them sear until they're good and brown on all sides, and then move them to the cool side.

Now the grill the tomatoes and red-onion slices for the gazpacho—add them to the newly empty hot side of the grill. Cover it. The loins will now cook slowly on the cool side and pick up some smoke. Check after a few minutes—flip the tomatoes when they're good and charred, and remove the loins when they're cooked through but still slightly pink in the middle. Remove the loins to a cutting board when they're done. Let them rest for a few minutes.

Move the tomatoes and onion slices to a blender when they're charred all over. (Don't worry about coring them.)

Station one person at the grill, and have him or her grill tortillas on the hot side, flipping them once and lightly toasting them on both sides. As they're done, swaddle them in a clean kitchen towel to keep them warm.

Put someone else in charge of the gazpacho. To the charred tomatoes and onion, add the chile(s), the garlic, a pinch of salt, and a generous grind of pepper, a few ice cubes, and one of those grilled tortillas, torn in half. Blend until everything is smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

To serve, cut the pork into thin slices, at an angle, and place on a serving plate. Divide the gazpacho into four bowls, adding an ice cube to each to chill it down a bit, and garnish each with a drizzle of olive oil. Let everyone assemble his or her own tacos, garnishing with peach salsa. Have someone else make a side dish—my friend made a lovely one of thinly sliced summer squash and zucchini, lightly baked and finished with shaved hard cheese.

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Climate Change Is Already Shrinking Crop Yields

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

For years now, people have wondered how climate change will affect farming. How will humanity feed itself during a time of rising temperatures and recurring drought?

Here in the US, we're starting to get a taste of things to come—and it's bitter. Brutal heat is now roiling the main growing regions for corn, soy, and wheat, the biggest US crops. According to Bloomberg News, 71 percent of the Midwest is experiencing "drier-than-normal conditions," and temperatures are projected to be above 90 degrees in large swaths of key corn/soy-growing states Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana through July 7 if not longer.

As a result, Goldman Sachs projects that this year's corn yields will come in 7.5 percent below the USDA's projection of 166 bushels an acre. (Why is a Wall Street behemoth like Goldman Sachs fussing over corn yields? That's another story, altogether, and an interesting one). Accordingly, crop prices are rising steeply, Bloomberg reports.

Congress' Big Gift to Monsanto

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

If you want your crops to bear fruit, you have to feed the soil. Few industries understand that old farming truism better than ag-biotech—the few companies that dominate the market for genetically modified seeds and other novel farming technologies. And they realize that the same wisdom applies to getting what you want in Washington, DC.

According to this 2010 analysis from Food & Water Watch, the ag-biotech industry spent $547.5 million between 1999 and 2009. It employed more than 100 lobbying firms in 2010 alone, FWW reports, in addition to their own in-house lobbying teams.

The gusher continues. The most famous ag-biotech firm of all, Monsanto, spent $1.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2012, after shelling out $6.3 million total last year, "more than any other agribusiness firm except the tobacco company Altria," reports the money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets.org. Industry trade groups like the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Croplife America have weighed in with $1.8 million and $524,000, respectively.

What fruits have been borne by such generous fertilizing of the legislative terrain? It's impossible to tie the fate of any bit of legislation directly to an industry's lobbying power, but here are two unambiguous legislative victories won on the Hill this month by Monsanto and its peers.