Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Fireside Dinner”

The Set-up: Ina is making a girls night dinner for her friend and garden designer Edwina von Gal (how amazing is that name?)

The Menu: Roast Loin of Pork with Fennel, Sautéed Cabbage, Rum Raisin Rice Pudding

0:32 – Ina says she likes to make a cozy dinner on nights when there’s a “snap in the air.” We’re having a snap alright – I’m freeeeezing!

1:21 – First up on the menu: Roast Loin of Pork with Fennel which she calls a one pot meal.

2:13 – Lots of good veggies in this dish – onions, carrots, potatoes – and fennel Ina’s “favorite vegetable.”

3:30 – She’s not kidding about this one-pot meal stuff – the vegetables go right from the cutting board to the roasting pan for seasoning. No spoon either, just clean hands!

4:05 – With a garden designer coming to dinner it only makes sense to take a trip outside to cut some fresh English thyme to use in the next phase of the recipe. Is it weird that I think that’s the height of decadence – fresh herbs for the picking at all times?

5:39 – Now for the pork loin marinade – garlic, salt, pepper, and a pun on thyme taking time. Oh, Ina you loveable goof.

6:44 – Now the mustard goes in and this looks like a delicious marinade/paste/rub hybrid. Yum.

10:00 – While the vegetables roast Ina starts on dessert: Rum Raisin Rice Pudding. Uh-oh. This isn’t the first time Ina has tried to convince me that rice pudding is a good idea. There was also this episode.

11:17 – Okay, well there’s rum involved, but I still just can’t even. No, I’m so sorry Ina, but I just can follow you down that dark path. Shudder.

12:33 – Another trip to the garden, this time for the flower arrangement. White dahlias, natch.

13:25 – Now for a little Entertaining 101. Ina says that the purpose of flowers and especially candles on the table is to focus attention inward on your dining companions. Which makes sense, I suppose.

14:06 – I thought (hoped) we were done with the rice pudding, but it was not to be. It’s back and it looks like a bowl of my culinary nightmares. Too dramatic?

19:39 – Whew, she put it in the fridge out of sight. Now Ina is adding the pork loin on top of the vegetables.

20:14 – A quick check in with Edwina and Charlie (her lab-mix?) shopping for plants. She doesn’t strike me as a rule follower, but Ina has a strict color scheme for her garden, so she caves and buys a giant branchy shrub with purple flowers.

21:42 – The pork loin is done and resting under it’s little foil tent just in time for Edwina to arrive toting a giant bush.

22:10 – Edwina insists that the spindly purple thing be planted immediately and Ina goes right along with her. dinner plans be damned.

23:58 – Present number 2 is a pair of bright pink, opera length gardening gloves. Okay, this I can get behind and Edwina is back in my good graces. I know she was nervous there for a minute.

26:27 – Ina is making Sautéed Cabbage as a side dish and I can’t decide whether I’m brave enough to try this.

27:31 – Also, do cabbage and fennel count as green vegetables? I could maybe be on board with it if I were confident there were some worthy vitamins in there.

28:44 – Edwina has the purple creeper (not it’s real name) in the ground and now it’s time to plate up dinner.

29:53 – Dinner is served and it’s like the cozy fireside meal of my dreams, except for dessert which in my world is chocolate cake. Cheers to cake!

Final Thoughts:
This seems like a very low-stress dinner, which I am 100% on board with.
I need to further consider this cabbage situation. It’s a complex issue.
Is it still presumptuous to bring someone something for their garden if you’re their garden designer? Is it like being a personal shopper for shrubs?

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
You might be wondering why on earth I’d want to make Roast Loin of Pork with Fennel after last month’s debacle with the Herb Marinated Pork Loin, but the reason is simple: I refuse to be defeated by a cut of meat. Also, this recipe did not involve pan sautéing and I bought a new instant read meat thermometer, so my confidence was restored.

The recipe steps are just slightly fussy – allowing the pork loin to stand with the mustard/garlic paste marinade, roasting the vegetables first, then adding the meat – but none of them are at all difficult. I noticed that Ina just tossed the cut vegetables right in the roasting pan with the spices, which even saves on an extra bowl.

The only small changes I made to the process were rotating the pork loin halfway through the cooking time (about the 25 minute mark) to ensure even cooking. I did not want a repeat of my last pork loin which was too pink in some spots and dry in others – not good.

I also felt that the vegetables were plenty done after 30 minutes of roasting alone, plus another 40-45 minutes with the pork, so while the pork rested I turned the oven off and just kept them warm.

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, but (are you noticing a trend?) the roasting pan is a key element – I used it to toss the vegetables with the butter and seasoning and then put it right in the oven. I also used a small prep-sized food processor, medium cutting board, and chef’s knife. Measuring spoons, tongs, a wooden spatula, cotton kitchen twine, and a meat thermometer (essential!!) round out the kit.

The Verdict:
I made Roast Loin of Pork with Fennel for Mike and I earlier this week and we were both really, really pleased with the results. The pork has great flavor from the garlic and mustard paste, but the unexpected star was the fennel. Neither of us could recall having roasted fresh fennel before and we both loved the caramelized richness. Next time I’ll throw in a few more bulbs so that there are extras. Mike’s one addition would be to make additional mustard sauce to serve over the slices of pork loin. . I would definitely make this again for a cozy dinner just for us or when we have guests.

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Roasted Pork Loin with Fennel | Image: Laura Messersmith