The Cute Gardener and I tend to spend our entertainment budget money on food. While other people are spending dollars on clothes and toys and second homes and playthings, we tend to live low on the consumerist radar in lieu of once a week forays into the culinary landscape. Whether it be low brow Sonoran hot dogs on a trip to Arizona or the latest farm to table $200 gastropub to crop up in downtown L.A. our indulgences lie weekly in the adventures of tasting.
This both inspires and drives the way we cook at home. Sometimes we keep it simple, like when the Cute Gardener whips up something from his never boring oeuvre of Italian pasta or Asian stir fry dishes based on whatever vegetables are currently sprouting in the garden. And once a week, I make a meal that is like me: messy, complicated and typically soaked in French undertones. Because we eat out so much we have a high bar to gauge our cooking. The CG who’s been cooking for himself the past 25 years typically meets that bar or surpasses it, making me a spoiled girl. When it comes to me, who’s only seriously endeavored into the world of home chef-dom for the past five or six years, though, it’s hit or miss. Sometimes a dish turns out remarkably well as with a recent olive tapenade-stuffed game hen and other times it flops miserably like the time I halved the beef called for in a beef wellington recipe but didn’t adjust the cooking temp and time accordingly producing an overly dry bastardization of a high caliber filet.
So I bring humor and hope into my ambitious weekly cooking evenings and a dash of the low expectations that come when you know you are an amateur dabbling in the big leagues. When we first met the CG told me that, as much as he appreciated the loving intention that went along with a woman wanting to cook for him, I should be warned that he has eaten out way too much for anything to impress him on the home front so I shouldn’t take anything personally. In our three-year relationship, I have heard him take a bite of two distinct dinners of mine and immediately say “This is good.” I thought that was a remarkable accomplishment. Last week I finally heard the holy grail of compliments escape his lips while biting into a slab of pork loin roast I made. He said, “See, meals like this make me wonder why we go out to eat.” Of course, he wasn’t serious about us not going out to eat –in the ensuing days after that comment we enjoyed Scratch Bar’s lovely cured pig’s heads and pink and purple pickled foods followed by a dash into Barney’s Beanery for a dessert of chili cheese fries. But I have been waiting to hear those words come out of his lips for three years.
So back to my learning curve-raising roast. Dorie Greenspan has been my silent mentor as I chip my way through her “Around My French Table.” So far, she has not served me wrong as I use her book as my personal classroom. Despite the fact that I have a tough judge and coach at home, I continue to try difficult things because over time, like with anything that requires practice, I perfect subtleties that benefit my cuisine overall. I learn when my oven times should be tweaked because I know the elevation of my home is different than the recipe originator’s. I know when I can leave an ingredient out and when I can’t. I know when I can substitute a vegetable for another and when I shouldn’t because of things like water content or fiber. I learn personal golden rules like always massage olive oil into kale before using it for a salad or never cook fresh peas for more than a minute in a hot pan lest they shrivel. And I raise my own cooking curve to challenging new heights. This is why I was pleased as punch to see my chard stuffed pork loin emerge from the oven last week with sublime “just pink” flesh and a dense and juicy tenderness.
Here’s Dorie’s original recipe with my own notes added at the end.
Chard Stuffed Pork Loin Roast
1 bunch Swiss chard, about 6 stalks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, fine dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup golden raisins
red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 1/2 pounds pork loin roast, at room temperature
Wash the chard well. Trim the ends of the stalks, about 1/2 inch or so. Then, cut or tear the leaves away from the center ribs. Finely chop the ribs and tear or roughly chop the chard leaves.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and starts to color, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add the chard ribs and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the chard leaves in two batches, adding the second when the first wilts enough to make room for it. Cook until the chard is tender, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the raisins and transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Add a pinch or so of the chili flakes, plus salt and pepper, to taste.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wipe clean the pan used for the chard mixture and place the pan in the hot oven.
Crack the peppercorns and coriander using a mortar and pestle or place between two sheets of waxed paper and pound with a mallet or skillet. Set aside.
If your butcher has not already done so, use a long, sharp knife to make a lengthwise slit in the pork roast, taking care not to cut the meat in two, about 1/2 inch from the outer edge. Open the roast and spoon the stuffing onto the meat. Close the meat around the stuffing and tie with kitchen twine, at intervals, replacing any stuffing that escapes as you go.
Rub the pork with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, season with salt and rub the crushed peppercorns and coriander into the meat. Carefully remove the hot roasting pan from the oven. Place the pork loin, fat side up, in the hot pan. Roast uncovered and undisturbed until the thickest part of the loin, not the stuffing, reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Check at 25 minutes but expect that it will take about 40 minutes.
Once the roast is done, remove from the oven and tent lightly with foil on a plate or cutting board. The pork should rest for 15 minutes.
I did not have kitchen twine so I used two skewers through either end of the open side of the meat and they worked just fine.
My chard leaves in the garden were massive so I only used three.
I used dark raisins instead of golden and they substituted well.
I served this with a kale, dried cranberry, and crushed almond salad lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and a Parmesan polenta with parsley.