Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sweet and Savory (Roast pork, pears, and root vegetables)

When my sister sent me half a dozen perfectly ripened pears and my sister-in-law gifted me with a jar of her fresh and local Lucky Bee Farm honey, I knew I had to make something special. I started out wanting to make a honey-sweetened pear upside-down cake, but Aaron invoked our agreement from a few months ago-"honey, stop baking"-and requested something savory, instead. Sweet and savory can be an excellent combination: there's honey in my beef teriyaki and in the barbecue sauce we slather on chicken, but the ultimate sweet meat is always, in my opinion, pork. Something about the pig's omnivorous diet and the practice of finishing meats with specific feeds to affect their flavor gives pork an inherent, unmistakable sweetness. Given a spicy rub of chili, garlic, and fennel, rounded out with some extra-hearty heft from a side of root vegetables, and topped off with a drizzle of honey Dijon gravy, this is a quick weeknight supper dressed to impress.

My sister-in-law, Sarah, and her husband, Seth, have been keeping bees, growing crops, and raising animals together for what will soon be a decade, and we've always enjoyed a steady supply of farm-fresh products. In our increasingly food-conscious society, it's nice to know who raised your meat or grew your produce. I feel it goes without saying that more mindfully-produced foods taste better than their battery-farmed equivalent. Being able to get fruits that are actually sun-ripe is a revelation and heirloom varieties retain a richer flavor profile, rather than one muted in favor of uniform appearance or excessive abundance. 

That's not to disparage greater agribusiness, entirely: it is their methods that produce so much food that it can be so cheap and plentiful. I maintain that there's no shame in buying a hothouse tomato because it's the bleak midwinter and you need to be reminded that life exists but, as hipster parodies run amok, there's no shame in sourcing your ingredients, either. This recipe shines because, with perhaps a substitution for the sea salt and olive oil, it should be easy to prepare entirely from local ingredients. If you still need to stop at the regular grocery, know that the only people judging you are wispy nymphs who handcraft pour-over coffee racks and go by names like Meadow and Silverleigh (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Cite your sources
There's a lot to love about every ingredient of this recipe, but I think the real stars are in the flavor rub. Inspired by a recipe I found for porchetta (a fatty, herb-rubbed Italian pork roast), it features garlic, black pepper, red chili flakes, and crushed fennel seeds. I love fennel seeds because they're intense, with a woodsy, herbaceous tang that overlays the mellow licorice flavor of the stalks and bulb. This woodsiness, paired with the fire of chilis, creates an enticing, richly Autumnal bouquet of flavors that complements the other ingredients and downplays the overall sweetness in favor of something smokier and more profound. Worked into the honey Dijon gravy, too, the fennel and fire play full-force. Another bland roast dinner? Not this is one.

Pork Force One
Fennel-rubbed roast pork, pears, and root vegetables, honey Dijon gravy
Roasting tends to color everything an even golden brown, so keep lots of fresh parsley handy to brighten the dish. Serves 4-6.

1-1/4 pounds pork loin, patted dry
4 small pears, such as Forelles, quartered and cored
6 carrots, peeled and sliced
6 parsnips, peeled and sliced

For the rub:
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper 
1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 475 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rest the pork out on the counter as you chop and prepare the other ingredients.

Lay out the pork, pears, carrots, and parsnips on the prepared baking sheet.

Whisk the run ingredients together in a small bowl, then rub over all the meat, pears, and vegetables, using your hands or a basting brush.

Ready to go
Roast the pan in the oven for 15 minutes. Flip the pork and pears and stir the veggies, then roast again a further 10 minutes. Everything should be fragrant and golden-brown, the pears mantled in a caramel coating. Tent loosely with foil and rest ten minutes.

During the last ten minutes of roasting and the rest time, prepare the gravy. Melt the butter over medium heat-high in a small, heavy saucepan, then whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until golden in color, about 2-3 minutes.  

Whisk in the stock and bring to a simmer, then stir in the mustard, honey, salt, pepper, chili flakes, and fennel seed. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until reduced by about half and visibly thickened, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the parsley and remove from the heat.

Just a little biased
Slice the meat at a bias for long, oblong pieces, and plate, drizzling with gravy.

Good gravy

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