Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall Classic: pork loin, baked apples and acorn squash

I love fall food, squashes and apples especially. This week, we picked up a couple nice looking Niman Ranch pork loin chops, and prepared them simply with some acorn squash and baked apples on the side.

Sweet acorn squash: Slice a medium acorn squash in half, through the stem. Scoop out the seeds and strings. Using a fork, poke the flesh liberally - this allows the flavoring to sink into the flesh while it's baking.

Place ~1 tsp. butter in the hollow, sprinkle in about 1-3 tsp. brown sugar (depending on the size of your squash), two pinches of cinnamon and, if you have them, a pinch each of allspice and nutmeg (preferable fresh grated). Bake 30-50 minutes at 400°F, until the flesh is very soft. I think it makes a nice presentation to serve just like this, but you can also scoop the flesh out and mash it up before serving. Adjust the sugar/spices at this point if desired.

Pork 'chops': Rub your pork chops with olive oil, kosher salt and a couple grinds of black pepper. We had some fresh sage on hand, so we chopped that finely and rubbed that on as well.

Heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a small oven-proof pan. Sear chops 5 minutes on each side and transfer to oven. Cook another 10-15 minutes at 400°F until meat is at 150°F - but be careful, it's super easy to overcook pork (as I did this time, boo) and nobody likes a tough chop. Remove from oven to a clean cutting board, cover with foil and let rest 5 minutes.

Baked apples: Core and slice (no need to peel) two medium-firm apples like Gala, Cortland, or the more tart Granny Smith.* Place the slices in the center of a sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon, similar to the squash, and wrap the aluminum foil up into a cup shape. Add 1 tsp. butter, if desired, and bake at 350° for about 15 minutes. *I sometimes add a handful of raisins (golden or Thompson) or cranberries to the mix for an extra visual and taste dimension, but didn't do that this time.

There's a lot of stuff going in the oven for this meal, so it takes a little thought to organize. I find it's easiest to prepare the squash and put that in the bottom rack of the oven first. Prepare the apples and set them aside. Start the pork, get that in the bottom rack of the oven too, and then put the apples in the top rack after five minutes or so. You can turn the oven down to 350° after removing the pork, that will finish off the squash and the apples by the time the pork has rested.

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