One week after our Thanksgiving feast, I was starting to get a bit tired of turkey. As luck would have it, my dear spouse had a lot of evening engagements ('tis the season after all) and so I've been struggling to eat up all the leftovers. So Monday I decided to ignore the ever-present Tupperware container of turkey meat at the back of the refrigerator and picked up a lovely pork roast.
We don't have pork very often, mainly because I give in to the Critic's dislike of fatty or gristly meats. Pork chops can be both, and though I always get nice cuts his inherent prejudice always comes out when I tell him we are having it for dinner. It's kind of depressing when you announce in a bright cheerful voice what a delightful dish you've concocted and your dear husband responds with a disappointed, "Oh, really?"
This dinner, however, temporarily broke the mold. First, he could smell it when he came through the front door and it smelled absolutely fabulous. And secondly, it tasted fabulous. Sweet apples and sweet caramelized fennel went beautifully with the juicy pork. To be honest, I also bribed the Critic by roasting potatoes in a separate pan and making copious amounts of gravy; those two elements usually overcome any lingering prejudices over the choice of meat.
Roast Pork with Braised Fennel, Apples and Onions
1 pork roast (ours was about 1.3 kilos or 2 1/2 pounds)
1 Tbs fennel seeds
1 Tbs oregano
1/2 Tbs dried thyme
1 tsp salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
2-3 small onions
2 small heads of fennel
a little olive oil
a couple tablespoons of flour, water (for the gravy)
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c. Grind the spices and seasonings in a spice grinder or zap them in the mini-food processor attachment of your immersion blender. Lacking either of these, you could use a mortar and pestle, but it will take a good while. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of your roasting pan and place the roast in it. Rub the outside of the roast with the spice mix, reserving a teaspoon or so. Wash the fennel heads and cut them in halves or quarters, depending on how large and woody they are. Place them, cut side down, in the roasting pan. Slice the onions in half, peel them and top them and add them to the roasting pan, also cut side down.
By now, hopefully, the oven will be hot. Slide the roasting pan in and you can go and do other things for a while. (This is one of the reasons I love a good roast, by the way.) About half an hour before the meat is done wash the apple, quarter it and cut away the core. Add it to the pan.
When the roast is done, remove it to a platter and cover it with tin foil. Put the vegetables in a bowl and place them in the still warm oven to keep warm. Put the pan on a high fire and reduce the pork juices by half. Shake a jar with a couple of tablespoons of flour and water (about a cup) and pour it into the pan. Use a spoon to scrape up any bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan and season with the remaining spice mix. Be generous with the salt as both pork and gravy need it.
Serve a couple of slices of pork with a mix of apples, fennel and onions and dribble gravy over the the whole mess. Savoury, a little sweet and incredibly satisfying on a cold winter night. Although technically the fennel isn't braised, the effect of caramelizing on the bottom of the pan and then soaking in the juices from the roast is the same end product. The vegetables and apple take on a lovely glazed sweetness as they bake and complement one another perfectly.
A note on the timing of the roast: I left mine in for an hour and a half, which is a bit long but was necessary as I seem to have misplaced my meat thermometer and I din't want to risk lockjaw. Santa, are you listening?