Every New Year's, we rent a house in Marin County (northern CA) with my in-laws and sister- and brother-in-law and niece. The general agenda is to do enough hiking to 1) tucker out the children and 2) combat the morning bun and cheese consumption. Laugh if you will, but we have been known to time our arrivals and departures in Berkeley to coincide with the open hours of the Cheese Board.
Typically, we load up on groceries at Berkeley Bowl and a few key shops in Point Reyes, and we eat most of our meals in. Since we stay in rental homes, it's always a bit of a toss up as to what kitchen equipment will be on hand and whether we deem it clean or a bit skeevy. As a result, we think ahead about dinners that will taste delicious, feed a crowd, and not require sophisticated utensils and cookware. (And yes, we've started traveling with our own knives, flexible cutting boards, and roasting pan.) This year, I proposed two dinner dishes: my friend Ottavia's mom's authentic Bolognese ragu (and when I say authentic, I mean my 17-year-old recipe is scribbled half in Italian, half in English, following a cooking session in her Bologna kitchen), and a recipe for fig-stuffed pork loin that my mother-in-law cut out of the New York Times food section for me a few months ago.
Whoowhee! They were both winners. I took point on cooking both nights, and I was dee-lighted with the results. Unfortunately, there are no pictures because we gobbled everything up. However, I would highly recommend this pork dish. It is, as my dad likes to say, "company-worthy," plus it's easy to prepare even with rudimentary tools at hand.
We made a few necessary changes that worked well, as I'll describe below. In the future, I might try the recipe as written, but I was more than satisfied with our method. The pork was perfectly-cooked, succulent, and nicely seasoned by the rosemary. The figs completely reconstituted and were tender and sweet, thanks to an initial soak in hot water followed by cooking inside the roast. We served it with roast broccoli (c/o my sister-in-law), salad, and fresh bread with sweet butter. YUM. I cannot wait to make this again!
Stuffed Pork Loin with Figs
1 1/2 cups dried figs
1 boneless pork loin, 2-3 pounds
3-4 rosemary sprigs, minced
salt and freshly-ground pepper
1/2 cup (or more) red wine
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Place figs in a bowl and cover with hot water to soak. Soak for about 20 minutes, and drain when the figs are soft but not mushy. Reserve the soaking liquid. I imagine you could soak them in red wine or liquor, but water worked just fine.
At this next step, we started to deviate from the recipe. The recipe says to wriggle a thin, sharp knife into each end of meat, making a kind of pilot hole. Then use handle of a long wooden spoon to force a hole all the way through meat, making it as wide as your thumb. This presupposes that your pork loin is one big hunk o' meat, but much to our surprise, our four pounds of pork loin were four long, skinny, 1-lb jobbers. No way could we stuff anything through those, so I near-butterflied them instead. I sliced all the way down each piece, cutting into each deeply, but not all the way through. (Quick aside: pork loin at Costco is $3.00 a pound - insanely cheap - and very tasty.)
Now the recipe calls for stuffing the figs into the roast, all the way to the center, from each end. Since mine were cut open, and the pieces weren't that tall, I halved the figs and laid them generously across the center of each piece of pork. Then I took a note from my mother's Thanksgiving turkey, got out a sewing kit, and stitched those bad boys together so the figs wouldn't fall out. Worked like a charm, and I was able to pull the string out with no residual damage once the pork was cooked. We were quite approximate with our fig measurements. As a huge fan of the sweet/savory combo, I rather liked the ratio of fig to pork in our smaller pieces of meat. Plus, with pork's tendency to dry out quickly, I think it kept the meat more moist.
Next, mince the rosemary and stir it around in a small dish with a bunch of salt and pepper. Rub this all over the pork. Place the meat in a roasting pan and pour about a half-cup of the fig-soaking liquid over it. Roast, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 325F and continue to cook, basting with pan juices (or added liquid: more fig-soaking juice, wine, or water) every 15 minutes. The recipe says when an instant-read thermometer registers 145 to 150 degrees — probably after 40 to 60 minutes — remove roast to a warm platter. (When checking meat, be sure thermometer is in meat, not fruit.) Of course, we had no instant-read thermometer. And I wasn't sure whether that meant 40-60 minutes MORE or 40-60 minutes of total cooking time. And with smaller pieces of meat, I knew it would be done faster. Ours cooked about 45 minutes total, including the initial 30 minute roast. We cut into it with a knife to ascertain that it looked done.
Another note: I didn't like that it didn't have any color - the pork can look grayish once basted with wine - so we cranked up the heat again for the last 5-7 minutes. Please understand, this was all highly approximated. Who knows how hot the oven even was? Takeaway message: check the meat and use your instincts.
Remove the pork to a dish and tent it lightly with foil to keep warm. Place the roasting pan on one or two burners on medium-high heat. If there is a lot of liquid, reduce it to about half a cup, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to release any brown bits. If pan is dry, add half a cup of wine and follow same process. As my sauce reduced, I poured the runoff juices from the pork into the roasting pan and added a pat of butter for good measure. (Jeez, could this get any less kosher?) Slice the roast and serve with the sauce. We didn't have that much sauce, so I just poured it over, but I put out a serving spoon so we could serve ourselves extra jus. Yum.
Final note: I've blabbed on a lot here, but don't be intimidated. It took me less time to assemble the whole dish than it did for me to write this post.