While I was recuperating from pertussis, or whooping cough, I was staying with a very sweet friend during the convalescence period, just in case I kicked off during the night but mostly to alleviate the tedium of being stuck at home from this dread illness. My friend was quite kind to take me in, and when I was feeling a bit better and my appetite returned, I asked if I could cook dinner one night for her and another understanding friend.
I was not contagious, just not suitable to be out in public, and completely wiped out from not sleeping more than an hour at a time. But I could make a simple meal! Stashed in my freezer from hog butchering season was a loin of pork from a Mangalitsa pig, a very fat and flavorful porcine breed, and the loin had been waiting for a suitable occasion. With additions from the wonderful delivery service Good Eggs, we also had a gorgeous butternut squash and some fresh asparagus and other herbs that would make perfect accompaniments to the meat.
I thawed the pork loin and scored the fat in a diamond pattern, and then made a marinade out of salt and pepper, herbs and garlic and a splash of white wine and olive oil.
In my friend’s largest skilled I browned the meat very well. With the capacious fat cap on the loin there was no need to add any fat, I just allowed the meat to render the savory, hazelnut scented fat to brown the roast. The aroma that wafted from the kitchen filled the hallway outside my friend’s apartment and the cats were underfoot, constantly meowing hopefully.
To accompany the roast I halved fat and sassy shallots and then topped them with slabs of peeled butternut squash, and then slathered on the leftover marinade from the pork. They roasted first for about 40 minutes, and then the browned roast sidled up next to them in the oven to finish off. I like this kind of cooking, it’s very hands-off and perfect when you are exhausted by life or just feeling lazy. The house is warm from the heat of the oven and everything feels so very cozy.
The pork roast was richly browned and smelled so tempting while it rested a bit before carving.
When I sliced the loin you could really appreciate the thick blanket of nutty fat from this special breed of pig. The trick to a good pork roast is to not cook it to death, just to 160 and then let the meat rest. The pink hue is due to the pasture raising of the pig and does not mean it is undercooked. While the meat roasted it bathed the lean loin with its own fat and juices and it is probably one of the most memorable roasts I have ever prepared.
We arranged everything on a serving platter, the tender and succulent pork slices on one side, and the meltingly browned, sweet shallots and squash on the other, everything fragrant with herbs.
To offset the richness of the entree I made a light and refreshing salad of shaved fennel, blanched asparagus and herbs, with a creamy chive dressing. The baby lettuces, arugula, fresh mint, fennel fronds, chives and parsley were washed and spun absolutely dry.
I shaved a fennel bulb into the salad bowl using a serrated Y shaped peeler, sharper than lemon juice in a paper cut.
It was hard not to snack on the blanched baby asparagus, I cut them into forkable lengths and splashed them briefly into salted, boiling water, then refreshed under cold tap water and drained well on a towel. *Most* of them made it into the salad.
I tossed everything together gently with my hands and then served separately a little bowl of creamy chive dressing, inspired by the Princess Diana’s favorite salad dressing from her chef at Balmoral Castle, Darren McGrady.
It was a simple dinner to prepare, the hardest part was making the salad. It was a convivial evening and it felt good to do something to thank my friend for her caretaking of me and to share the rich treat of the Mangalitsa.
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