Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cookbooks and Pork Roasts

I've got a lot of cookbooks.  I've got a lot of cookbooks in the way that crazy people have a lot of cats.  On the shelves, on the counter, up on the fridge.  Piled on my night table, lined up on a side table, crammed into far too many tote bags.  And like the crazy cat lady, I love each and every one of them.

I've tried to cull some out, but they just don't seem to make it past the front door.  The French cookbook from when I was younger and more ambitious, the book from an Italian cooking academy, even the Caribbean one.  But then I'll remember a particular Potatoes Anna recipe, or a torte of pasta encased in pastry, or even a jerk recipe that I made once and back up into their little spaces they go.  
I've got filing cabinets full of recipes that I've collected over the past 20 years.  Binders, folders, Ziploc bags...you name it, I've got a recipe stored in it.  And somewhere, tucked in either a file labelled "pork" or possibly in another labelled "Italian", there once hid a gem.  It was a recipe for pork braised in milk that had been highlighted in the food section of our local newspaper.  With God as my witness, it was probably one of the most best things I'd ever put in my mouth.  Afterwards, I took the recipe, folded it with much tenderness, and over the years, proceeded to lose it. 
Oh, there are many recipes for pork braised in milk.  It's a classic Italian dish.  But this one...oh, this one, it could not be replaced.  After braising, the sauce was finished with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and baby peas.  I thought there could never be another.  Not for me, anyway.  But I had very special people coming for dinner this weekend and I wanted to make it.  I looked online, but nothing came close.  So, after reminding myself that my student loans might indicate that I have a little knowledge and some experience, I decided to wing it.  And here's what I did:
I snatched up a 4.5 lb pork loin, some heavy cream, fennel, and garlic.  Crushing the garlic in a bowl, I added kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, fennel seeds and olive oil.  And then I gave that pork loin a rub that it's not soon to forget, let me tell you!  I let it sit a bit so that the flavor of the seasonings would mesh with the meat. 
In my favorite Dutch oven (oh, you know the one...that coy, red Le Creuset), I heated some olive oil and seared a beautiful brown
crust on all sides of the meat

Then I removed the meat and added some finely sliced fennel, a good hunk of butter, and some peeled garlic cloves.  I gave it a stir, turned down the heat, covered it, and let the fennel cook down to melted goodness!   

Oh, the smell! If you've never caramelized slices of fennel, you must! The anise scent softens out so beautifully....even my kids were sniffing it (and they don't like anything, trust me)! So, do that please.

So anyway...back into the pot goes the meat, on top of the fennel and garlic.  And because I am in love with Julia Child, I toss over the milk for the extravagance of heavy cream, slowly pouring a whole pint of rich goodness onto this caramelized lusciousness.  Yes.  Oh yes. 
On goes the lid and into a 325 oven goes the pot.  For an hour.  No peeking.  Just go set the table with something nice and pour yourself a glass of wine.  After an hour, remove the lid and continue to cook until the temperature reaches 145 and the top is golden and crusty.  When the temp has been reached (and please do not, for the love of God and all the angels in heaven, do NOT over cook it), take the meat out, put it on a platter and cover it with foil to keep warm.  Put the pot on top of the stove, stick your nose into it, and take a deep breath.  And then kiss somebody quickly before the effect wears off.  You'll understand.
Turn your heat up to medium high and bring that creamy goodness to a gentle boil.  You want to reduce the cream to a saucy consistency.  I think it took about 5-10 minutes.  When it's done, taste for seasonings and keep hot while you slice the pork.  Make sure you've waited 20 minutes before slicing or the meat will shred and the juices will run all over.  Once sliced, whisk all of the accumulated juices back into the sauce.  The only thing I added to the sauce at this point was freshly ground black pepper, but freshly chopped rosemary or sage would have been very nice, too.
Arrange the meat on a nice platter and gently pour the sauce over the it.  I'm telling you, this sauce was so good, I'd eat a paper towel if that was the only thing I had to dunk into it.  I served this with rice pilaf and, although the green beans that I bought and planned to saute would have been perfect to accompany this dish, I forgot them in the fridge.  But I did make bread....I think that made up for it.     
1 pork loin roast, 4-5 lbs.
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp fresh ground black pepper
4 Tbsp fennel seeds
1/4 cup olive oil

1 bulb fennel, very thinly sliced
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled
1 pint heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste

Mix the garlic, salt, pepper, and fennel into the olive oil and generously rub onto the pork loin.  Let it sit so that the flavors can get to know each other.

Sear the meat on all sides in a heavy bottom Dutch oven.  Remove from pot and add sliced fennel and garlic cloves.  Stir, reduce heat, cover, and let cook for a while, until the fennel is golden and very soft.  Put the meat back into the pot on top of the fennel and garlic, and pour the cream over.  Cover with lid and bake for an hour at 325. 

After an hour, remove the lid and continue cooking until the meat's temperature is 145.  Remove roast from pot, place on platter and cover with foil to keep warm.  Reduce sauce over medium-high heat, seasoning as needed.  Whisk any accumulated juices back into sauce, slice meat, and gently pour sauce over the roast.  :)



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  2. OMG, that is the most beautiful pork I have ever seen! You are amazing with your just from scratch recipe!

  3. Your pork recipe sounds scrumptious planning to try it very soon. You bring a smile to face when you talk about your cook book obsession. I can relate, my husband question to me how much cook book do you really ?

    1. Thank you, Freda! I get the same question!