‘Tis the season for field peas. They look harmless, right? I like that the pods are different shades of greens and purples. And I appreciate their Southern, late summer charm. In theory. But, in reality, my thumbs are aching!!! I’ve been shelling peas an awful lot lately, since they’ve been a part of Jackson Lowe’s CSA bounty for the past several weeks. Not only do I shell my own, but I have four clients from the CSA whose peas have needed shellin’ too!
Today, I put on some Carolina Chocolate Drops and went to work, listening to the sounds of days gone by. I shelled for 30 minutes, and came up with 2 cups of these little beads- minus the ones that flung themselves onto the floor while I struggled to open their cocoons. I tried to channel my innermost old Southern lady, sitting on her porch, back in the day, shelling peas. And several things came to mind.
One, those old ladies had kids AND grandkids to help them shell! Note to self: invite friends over on pea-shelling-days. Two, I must invest in a pea sheller before next year’s pea season. It is an instrument that needs to find its place on my pending Happy Cook’s Tool Belt. Other items that would live on this belt are: my garlic press, digital thermometer, citrus zester, stick blender, paring knife, chef’s knife, a collapsible salad spinner, fine mesh strainer, and, of course, a hanging hammock or something to tote my cutting board. I know, the picture I just conjured up seems unfeasible- preposterous even. I understand. But that is the same way I feel about standing still for 30 minutes single-tasking in my kitchen!!!! I think that back in the day of pea-shelling porch sessions, they had a lot more time on their hands. Life was more simple.
Item number three that I was pondering while shelling peas: I have a serious, visceral relationship with ingredients. Today, I felt a little aggravated with my peas. Lately, I’ve been kind of at odds with brown basmati rice. I can’t seem to hit its nail right on the head for some reason. I’m sure plenty of you out there can identify with me on this one. Sometimes my rice is too starchy and puffed out, other times- it’s undercooked. I swear, I am using the same methodology I’ve employed successfully before. But, we’ve just been kind of fighting lately, rice and I.
I have a love, love, love relationship with tomatoes. I know when they need to be peeled, when to utilize their liquid and seeds, when to discard them, and so forth. Leafy greens and I are good friends. Some of them are heartier or more bitter than others, and those types require longer cooking. I am aware that if I put spinach or arugula
into a soup, it must be at the very last moment. Squash is a go-to vegetable for me, like a right-hand-man, since it can be used in so many applications.
Eggplant and I are on slightly rocky terms right now, as I tried to roast it in little cubes the other day and it had a complete meltdown.
What I realize about these relationships I have with ingredients, is that I am trying to evolve. I’m striving to respect and understand each item for what it is—to highlight its strengths and downplay its weaknesses. Once I master showcasing an ingredient through one method of cooking, I push myself to learn how it can shine in a different way. I want to show restraint and preserve authenticity, while integrating ingredients into well-balanced meals that delight the senses and honor the season.
I say all this not to kvetch and complain about vegetables that I find challenging at the moment, but because I had ample time standing and shelling for some introspection. My goal here is always to share my journey and thoughts of food. And hey- I’m be thankful to my peas for that opportunity.
Today’s meal truly honors simplicity. I offer you Arugula, Apple and Goat Cheese Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Smashed Butternut Squash and Wilted Sweet Potato Greens.
We began by creating an easy marinade for our pork:
2 cloves garlic, sliced
zest and juice of a lemon
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 sprig of rosemary, broken into 4 pieces
splash of canola oil
couple pinches salt and freshly ground pepper
I tossed the pork to coat it in the flavor boosters, covered the bowl and placed it in the fridge for thirty minutes. Then, I flipped it and let it sit another thirty, at least.
Meanwhile, I preheated my oven to 400° and prepared the butternut squash.
We sliced the squash in half lengthwise,
and scooped out the seeds. Then, we brushed each flat surface with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg. Real simple.
Since this was my first butternut squash of the season, I really wanted to just taste its character. All we added were a few cloves of roasted garlic, which we knew would impart a little extra sweetness and depth.
We placed it in the oven and roasted for about 45 minutes, until the squash was nice and tender.
This gave us time to prepare the stuffing for our pork. The goal was to let the apples and arugula mingle with the creamy goat cheese and star in the dish, so we only needed a couple supporting ingredients.
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced small
2 cloves garlic, pressed
4 – 6 big arugula leaves, thick stems removed, chopped
1 apple, diced (squeeze a little lemon juice over the apples to prevent browning)
4 oz goat cheese
1/2 sprig of rosemary, leaves minced
about a foot and a half of kitchen twine, soaked in water
Heat a medium pan with a little olive oil to medium heat while you chop your onions and peppers, and then add your onions and a pinch of salt to the pan.
Let them cook down a few minutes, until they become soft. Then, add the bell peppers.
After a couple minutes, go ahead and add the garlic to the pan.
Cook one more minute, season with salt and pepper, and turn off the heat. The idea is to bring out the natural flavor and moisture of these vegetables so that we can impart their goodness into the stuffing. Remove this mixture to a bowl to cool down.
You don’t want to put hot stuffing into raw pork, as it will begin to cook the meat and create an uneven cooking environment.
While the veggies cool down, a perfect window of time opens up for preparing the main event.
Remove the pork from the marinade and pat it dry, so it will be easy to handle. Then, slice the tenderloin in half long-ways through the widest point, giving you the most surface area with which to work.
At this point, you could lay down a piece of plastic wrap and gently pound out the meat to make it flatter. That will give you more room for stuffing and make the tenderloin even easier to close around the ingredients. I chose not to go that route just because I was concerned about the pork becoming thinner, cooking more quickly, and having a higher chance of drying out. I wanted the meat to be nice and thick around my stuffing. But, I think next time, I would pound it out slightly to make more room.
Season the inside of the pork with salt and pepper.
Add the remaining stuffing ingredients to the cooled vegetables, and stir to combine.
Taste and be sure it’s well-seasoned.
Use clean hands to place stuffing along the center of the butterflied pork. You won’t be able to fit it all in there. You actually could probably stuff two pork tenderloins with this mixture- or reserve half of it to use on a sandwich or as a topper for chicken another day during the week.
I’m not gonna lie, this was a two-man job. Adam pulled the pork together while I tied the twine around the pork to hold everything in place. Again, this part of the process will be easier if the pork is pounded out a bit.
We chose to grill this beauty, but you could certainly sear it off in a pan and then finish cooking it in a 375° oven, or just roast it in the oven entirely.
Our intent was to achieve a nice char on each side of the pork over direct heat, and then move the meat over to the other side of the grill, which had no coals. We did not place the open stuffing side over the flames, for fear we would lose some of the goodies. What my brilliant husband did do was make a little bowl of applewood chips. Once he moved the pork over to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking, he placed the applewood chips over the coals and closed the lid. This created a fire-roasting situation with applewood smoke. And oh- did it make a difference!?!
While the meat cooked, we completed the squash.
I gotta admit, this was not the best way to roast garlic. The cloves were too exposed and not protected enough. The side of each clove that had been touching the pan hardened some and we had to kind of pick around it. Lesson learned. Next time, I will roast a whole head of garlic and then squeeze a few cloves into the mash at the end.
You could also caramelize a sweet onion and add those to your squash. I even added cooked apples with curry powder to my mashed butternut squash yesterday, and that turned out pretty awesome! Honestly- you can roast and smash the squash all by itself without adding a thing. Anyway, we just scooped the squash out of its skin, drizzled in a little bit of heated milk, and used a spoon to mash the gorgeous orange flesh.
Taste and season to your liking. It should taste like fall!
Lastly, we pulled the meat off the grill once it had reached 145° in the thickest part of its center.
And while it rested, I wilted my sweet potato leaves.
I’d seen these leaves at the local farmers market a bunch of times, so I was curious and wanted to try them. I asked the farmer about them, and he informed me that these greens wilt quickly like spinach. So, I just put them in a pan with a little olive, salt and pepper to see what they were all about.
I used tongs to turn them over medium heat, and within 2 or 3 minutes, they were finished.
Woohoo! Time to slice the pork!
Mmmhmmm! We kept the twine on while we sliced, which made the cutting easier.
Yummmmmalicous!!! This pork was divine. So incredibly tender- the texture was absolutely perfect. You could cut it with a fork. And the applewood smoke lent an obvious but not overpowering smoky, bacon-like flavor. The stuffing was luscious. I loved the way the apples still had some crunch to them, and their slight sweetness was lovely mixed with the mellow tang of the goat cheese and the peppery quality of the arugula. The onions, peppers, and garlic just brought together that homey, savory notion. And the rosemary was present – from both the marinade and the stuffing- but it added an herbaceous, woodsy tone without taking over the dish. Our squash was delectable. Simple, aromatic, soft, moderately sweet, but well-rounded. The sweet potato greens were plain. They didn’t offer tons of flavor, but they tasted of the earth- with maybe a hint of potato. (Or maybe that’s just because I was thinking potato…) I could see incorporating the leaves into raw salads or tossing them into a pot with other, stronger tasting greens. You know, some fried okra would be an excellent green side dish for this meal too. Or- how ’bout some fresh field peas. Ahaha. I laugh at myself.
All in all, it was a deliciously successful meal. And the leftovers were outstanding! When I ate my remaining stuffed pork and squash for lunch, my mouth was happily surprised all over again with wonderful flavors and textures. I love the combination of apples, arugula, and goat cheese. I’ve made them sing as one before, and I’m sure I’ll find yet another way to bring those three together in the future. I wonder how…crepes??
Well friends, I have got to roll. I appreciate you being here and listening to my musings. Hopefully, I’ve sparked a little special something inside of you today that will motivate or inspire you to try something new in your kitchen. Here’s to a fabulous week full of joy and tastiness.
Happy cooking and eating to you,