It isn’t often that the Bun requests a specific meal, but when he does, he’s usually on the money with something I am craving, as well. This week, with the abundance of apples we have in our possession from the apple picking adventure with Meggie and DD, he requested an apple-stuffed pork loin, along with simple roasted sweet potatoes and not-so-simple brussels sprouts. To me, this is the absolute epitome of hearty fall fare. The folks at our local grocery seem to understand this fact, as well, since pork loin roasts have been on sale as of late.
Where pork certainly isn’t a strictly cold-weather dish, cooked apples, sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts all fall into the autumn-winter category for me. Bacon, of course, should be consumed in all seasons, but in this application (as part of the prep for the sprouts), it really hits home with a hearty goodness you appreciate after being out in the chill all day. The pork loin differs from the tenderloin in terms of shape (more like small roast), size (shorter and fatter), color (lighter, more pink) and flavor (a bit more mild). The loin also cooks up with more of a dense texture than the tenderloin, and is therefore, prone to overcooking (or at least drying out). A fruit stuffing helps to keep the moisture in the meat, and flavors it as well; apples and pears are logical choices, as far as I am concerned, as would be dried fruits in the colder months (cherries, apricots, plums).
For this, I think you can be pretty informal about the recipe, so here is a little time-line recipe guide: Basically, you just have to get a handle on what is going to take the most time to cook. For me, I hate undercooked potatoes, so I cube the sweet potatoes (scrubbed well, with the skin on) and toss them with a few glugs of olive oil, coarse salt, and black pepper. I really like the pure, sweet taste of the potatoes, so I don’t do much with them in terms of seasoning. Pour the cubes into a baking dish that will allow them to cook in one layer, then place in the oven. Preheat to 450. Allow 1 large sweet potato for every two people.
The stuffing is really easy, and just comes together in a saute pan. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in your pan over medium-high temperature and heat until it sizzles. Then add one small coarsely chopped onion and cook until it begins to soften. Then, add one coarsely chopped, firm apple (Granny Smith, Macoun, Empire, Jonathan, etc.) and saute together with a little salt and pepper. You can add a dash of warm spice, too, like cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove. If you can, cool this mixture to room temperature once the apples start to soften.
Meanwhile, rinse and pat dry one (about 2 lb) pork loin. Don’t trim the fat side unless it is more than a quarter inch; it will keep the meat from drying out. Stick holes into the meat at places all over with a sharp paring knife, then insert slivered garlic cloves (about five) – it is amazing how much this flavors the lean meat of the roast. Once you have that done, you have to cut the roast open to stuff it. Make a long incision down the middle, then two smaller incisions along the bottom of the first cut; you want to basically cut a Y shape into the cross-section of the pork. Season the both sides of the meat with salt, pepper, and either finely chopped fresh sage or few pinches of some dried; unless you really know you like sage, don’t go overboard. Cover the cut side of the pork with an even layer of the stuffing mixture, then tie in four or five places along the roast with kitchen string to keep it together. Place into the oven and cook for 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 250 and cook for about 40 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 155 in the thickest part of the meat. While the roast is cooking, you can prepare the brussels sprouts. This is the version you have to make for people who think they hate brussels sprouts; though it is time-consuming, the result is delicious. Basically, you want to cut off a small part of the bottom of the sprouts, throw away any discolored leaves, and then peel the sprouts open like you would a cabbage. You will reach a point where you get to the core, and then you are done peeling. It helps if you have someone to assist you in this task, or if you can convince them to do it because you are so busy doing other things. =) Once you are done peeling the sprouts, rinse them with cold water in a colander and set aside. Allow 5-7 sprouts per person.
You’ll want to cook the sprouts only after you’ve removed the roast from the oven to rest. Have a look at the potatoes after the roast is done, too, and see if the need extra time. If so, turn up the heat to 350; if not, just leave them in the oven on warm. Cover your roast with foil and set aside. I never understood the concept of letting meat rest after cooking until I started doing it; it really does facilitate carving and seals the juices back into the flesh. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature is at least 160.
Dice 1 slice of bacon per person and saute in a large pot with a heavy bottom over medium-high heat. You want to render the fat here and crisp the bacon. Once you’ve accomplished that, you will want to remove some of the rendered fat from the pot – you want the flavor, but not the greasiness. Please do this away from the heat in an effort to prevent a grease fire. Return the pot to the heat (making sure there is no grease on the outside of your pot) and bring back to a sizzle. Add your sprouts, a few pinches of salt, and ground black pepper, to taste. Stir with tongs, then cover until the sprout leaves are bright green and slightly wilted. Heaven.
This is the kind of meal I think is best served family-style, with some good autumn beers or hard cider.