Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mom's Pork Roast, My Style

It's hotter than heck outside and I finished "butchering" my whole pork loins the other night and left out something in the fridge to cook, freezing the rest- a roast. What in the world was I thinking? It's summer in Iowa and I am going to make a roast...... 

I chose home canned green beans as the veggie.
My mom made roasts all year long, regardless of the temperature or season. Her cooking style was very utilitarian and "unfancy" and filled hungry tummies. I suppose that's because of her life in Germany and the very limited means of her parents and growing up in post-war Weisbaden. My parents were a unique blend of simple and extravagant. My dad was the foodie type and loved cooking and experimenting, while my mom cooked simple meals- lots of roasted meats, potatoes or noodles and a vegetable. My mom's pot roast was epic. She would sear it off in her black enameled roasting pan, and I swear she only knew how to use the highest temperature setting. After searing the meat she'd do the same with an onion, and it would be at least half very very browned, nearly charred. Those onions had so much flavor in spite of being a hair away from burned. Gravy always accompanied Mom's roast and it was a toss up if we'd be having potatoes, German potato balls, or noodles. My sister and I would be in the living room watching Gilligan's Island or I Dream of Jeannie in an oniony scented smoky haze while Mom busied herself in the kitchen. I love that smell to this day. Since I have these beautiful whole pork loins and cut them into pieces appropriate for The Chef and myself, a pork roast seems to be a natural choice. The roast I am making today will be based on Mom's style of cooking with some updates  of my own like using fennel and herbs. Mom never used anything green in food unless she was making spaghetti. 

Let's get started on the roast. You will need:

1 boneless pork loin roast 2-3 lb
1 large onion
1 or 2 bulbs fennel 
6 cloves fresh garlic
salt and pepper
cooking oil
2 cups chicken stock*
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon crushed dried sage
1 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
cornstarch for thickening

Heat a Dutch oven or roasting pan over medium high heat. 

Chop the onion into large chunks. Slice the fennel bulb, reserving the stalks and fronds for later. Finely mince the garlic.

Add a couple tablespoons of oil to the pot. Add the roast, season with salt and pepper. Sear the meat on all sides until nicely browned. 

Remove to a plate. Add the onions to the pot, adding a touch more oil if needed. Allow the onions to cook undisturbed for several minutes so they get very browned and caramelized. 

Toss around and add the fennel. Cook until the fennel is also lightly caramelized. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute but don't let the garlic brown. Add the stock and one cup water and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the crusty bits from the bottom of the pot. Return the meat to the pot, and add the herbs except the parsley. Cover and place in a 300 degree oven and ignore for a good 3 or 4 hours.

When the meat is tender, remove from the pot and place on a plate; tent with foil. Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables from the pan juices. Taste the broth for seasoning. Adjust if necessary. 

Place the pot back on the burner and bring the liquid to a boil. Make a cornstarch slurry with a tablespoon or two of cornstarch and thicken the gravy. Add the parsley. 

Slice the roast and serve with the vegetables and gravy and spaetzle for an Erika style German meal.

*I used homemade turkey stock because that's what I happened to have on hand. You can use chicken, turkey, vegetable or pork stock if you have it. Even beef will work in a pinch, the important thing is bringing flavor to the finished gravy.

Now what the heck are spaetzle? The short answer is noodles, but noodles in Germany aren't quite same as in the U.S. Spaetzle are more like little dumplings and are so easy to make at home. They cook in no time, and get finished in a skillet with some melted butter to brown them so slightly. Snuggled up to a nice hunk of roast and draped with rich brown gravy- it's the ultimate in comfort food, German style.  Let's make some!


2 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more
pinch of nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. A stand mixer makes it really easy- mix ingredients until a dough forms. Transfer dough to a large freezer bag. 

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.

Cut the corner off the bag- keep it SMALL- think no more than drinking straw size. Squeeze the dough into the boiling water, breaking it off every inch or two. You don't want long strands but you don't want little beads either. Work quickly to get all the dough into the water. 

Boil the noodles for 2 minutes. Drain the noodles well in a colander. Set aside.

Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat and add a couple tablespoons additional butter. Turn the spaetzle into the skillet and saute, stirring occasionally, until they start to turn golden brown. Remove to serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley to serve.

Let's talk for a minute about the fennel. Using fennel in this recipe was totally unlike my mother's style of cooking. I'm pretty sure she had never cooked or eaten a fresh fennel bulb, just wasn't her thing, and to the best of my memory Dad never grew them in the garden either. I've been on a quest the last couple years to incorporate more of these veggies that aren't as common into some of our dishes here. So fennel- if you've never had it, it's very fresh and crunchy veggie. It has a texture that reminds me of celery but it's not stringy. The bulb is very versatile and can be cooked just about any way and eaten raw. It's pretty popular in slaws and salads. The feathery fronds remind me of dill and are also very useful for adding another flavor element in your dishes. Fennel seeds as you probably know, are common in sausage and other foods. The seed heads also look like dill. Fennel is one of the main components in absinthe and yes, it does have a very strong licorice flavor, but that mellows tremendously when you cook it. 

I browned the fennel just like the onion and added it to the pot with everything else. It smelled incredible when browning and what it added to the finished dish was just wonderful. I didn't serve the vegetables, instead scooped them out and discarded them, using them just for flavor only. We had some home grown home canned green beans instead. The meat was so flavorful, just like Mom's! The spaetzle was so easy to make and so delicious. The little dumplings were tender and the browned crispy sides were the best part. The gravy was dark and rich and had a wonderful pork flavor. The roast- so so delicious. Roasting with those vegetables infused the meat with so many wonderful flavors. 

I'm sure my mother would have approved.

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