It’s been a while since I posted about a full meal. I’ve been wanting to make this dish ever since my grande fig adventure, but I had trouble locating all the ingredients. I didn’t think it would be very difficult to find pork loin roast, but something that sets our local co-op apart from the one we joined in Iowa is the lack of a butcher. All of the meat available is pre-cut and pre-wrapped, and maybe it’s just me, but it seems WAY more expensive here. Desperation drove me, as it often does (see One Fig, Two Fig), and I sought the help of a local butcher in a stand-alone shop.
I know this solution probably seems obvious, but I’m still getting used to my new small town without big box stores. I am every bit the noob. When I did find what I was looking for, I was even happier to discover how affordable it was to pursue a specialty shop.
Treasured find in hand, I made my way back home to start on dinner.
Pork Chops and Roasted Fig Dinner with Sauteed Kale and Cheddar-Mashed Butternut Squash
I’m down to just my frozen figs, so this will probably be the last fig recipe of the season. I found the pork chop recipe in Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, from Williams Sonoma (check it out in my Recommended Cookbooks page!) and it quickly rose to “Fall Favorite” status.
For one reason or another, I’m usually so distracted by the meat portion of the dish that I forget sides entirely. When designing this recipe for the blog, I finally sat down to really consider the flavors I wanted to profile in the overall meal. Truly great meals are successful because they balance the main five tastes: Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, and Savory (or Umami).
It helps to think of this meal like a musical composition. The literal meat of the dish, the pork chops, is the savory foundation of the meal, the main melody. The hint of bitter from the greens are the deep, luscious bass notes that fill out the overall flavor profile. The salty, sharp cheddar, and the hint of sour from the mustard are the tenor lines, playfully intermingling with the main melody. Then there is the delicate sweetness of the figs and apple cider that float gracefully over your tastebuds, and memory of them stick with you long after the meal is finished.
All of this is a very elaborate way of saying that this may be my favorite Fall meal ever. I may make it again when my family comes to visit for Thanksgiving. But enough of my talk, it’s time to cook.
We’ll work this recipe in stages. If your oven is big enough, you can do squash and pork at the same time. If you operate a small apartment-sized oven like I do, start with the squash.
Cheddar-Mashed Butternut Squash
Because whole-roasted squash often contains enough water to puree, rather than mash, the butternut is first cubed. This not only draws out some of the extra moisture, but give a lot of depth to the flavor. The cheddar emphasizes the sweet flavor of the butternut through contrast. The first bite of the mash reveals the sharpness of the cheddar, then smoothly transitions into the sweetness of the squash. The flavors compliment and enhance each other with the minimal amount of ingredients.
1 large butternut squash (about 4 pounds)
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp cream
salt to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 400. Cut the ends off the squash, then use a vegetable peeler to peel. Cut the squash in two, cutting close to the hollow, bulbous end containing the seeds.
Normally, I would just cut this bad boy into two equal halves, but if culinary school has taught me anything in the last two weeks, it’s the importance of consistency. The final cuts must be consistent if you don’t want to end up with half-cooked and charred pieces in the same pan. By cutting the squash closer to the bulbous end, you maximize the amount of cube you can get from the thicker, solid portion. Then, once you’ve scooped out the seeds, you can cut the hollowed out part into wedges, and cube it from there.
Cube the butternut into 3/4″ pieces, then coat a large roasting pan with cooking spray, and spread the squash into an even layer in the bottom of the pan. Roast for 13 minutes, remove from the oven, then use a wooden spoon to toss the cubes and un-stick any that might be attached to the bottom of the pan. Return to the oven and roast for and additional 10 minutes.
Transfer the squash to a medium, heat-resistant bowl, and use a potato masher to combine with the cheese and cream. Once mashed, add salt to taste.
It’s time for the star of the show!
Pork Chops with Apple Cider Reduction and Roasted Figs
The recipe that started it all. What I love most about this dish is how well the flavors come together. It’s not just a hunk of meat and a side of fruit. After roasting in the reduced apple cider and pan juices, the figs are as soft and smooth as butter, and their natural sweetness perfectly compliments the rich, savory flavor of the pork chops. I love this combination so much, that in the first year I made it, I refused to cook pork again until the next Autumn season, because I couldn’t imagine preparing it any other way.
1 Pork loin roast (about 1 1/2 pounds, cut into four pieces)
1 tbsp Olive oil
1 cup Apple cider
1 sprig Fresh Rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
2 tsp Old fashioned mustard (any style but classic yellow)
6 Figs, de-stemmed and sliced lengthwise.
1 tbsp butter
Salt and Pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 400. Heat the olive oil in a large, oven-safe pan over med-high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper, then transfer to the pan. Brown the chops on both side, then transfer to a plate. To the pan and juices, add the apple cider, rosemary and mustard. Stirring occasionally, heat until the cider has been reduced by half. Add the pork chops back to the pan, then transfer to the oven and roast for 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, flip the chops, and add the figs, cut side down. Return the pan to the oven and roast until the internal temperature of the chops has reached 145 degrees, another 6-8 minutes more.
After roasting, transfer the pork chops and figs to a plate. Add the butter to the pan and whisk to make a pan sauce to serve with the chops.
The side that ties it all together. Lately, I’ve become a big fan of preparing kale in a wok. The tall, sloped sides make it easy to toss the kale and cook it evenly. Also, because this pan is designed for high heat cooking, I can blast this on high and add liquid at the end to steam the greens to perfection. The result is beautifully bright greens with just the right amount of bite. By steaming the kale with apple cider, rather than just water, the sweetness mellows some of the bitter taste of the greens and really brings together the sharp flavor of the mashed butternut and the sweet and savory pork chops.
1 bunch Curly variety kale
1 tbsp Olive oil
1/4 cup Apple cider (or apple juice)
Remove the woody stems from the kale, then tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Over high heat, toss the olive oil and kale together until the leaves start to turn a bright green. Add the apple cider and continue to toss the greens until the cider has reduced, about a minute more. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a separate dish to slow the cooking process. Serve atop the mashed butternut squash, top with pork chops and figs, then drizzle it all with the pan sauce.