Monday, October 11, 2010

Apricot and Apple Stuffed Pork, Roast Winter Squash and Toffee Apples

Given the delightful weather we are having, WheelerandCompany have been spending long hours in the new garden.  It has been a little strange getting used to the immediacy with which it arrived, as it really only took a few weeks work and somewhere that we previously let the recycling collect has become a peaceful, green oasis in the middle of the city. 
It's quiet in the evenings and the now dark mornings without the traffic when everyone is asleep except for the steady hum of the port, which never tires. 
When I first moved from the familiarity of the tides and my seaside cradle to the city of Belfast as a young architecture student, I was terribly homesick, missing those night sea sounds- I thought that they could never be replaced.  Now in this city, I listen in the dark and feel just at home to the fog horns, the dull drone of a ships motor leaving for another place, the energy that is never quite extinguished.  
The magic of the garden is that it has given us a place to listen to the city.  It is also another place to share food.
Saturday in the garden was laughter with friends, eating Pork Fillet stuffed with apricot, apple and pancetta, served with an assortment of roast winter squash filled with a deeply soothing risotto of wild, basmati and wholegrain rice followed with oven baked apples and plums with toffee sauce and a slice of Charlotte's wonderful velvety chocolate cake - an Autumn feast worth writing about.

We sat  in the garden until well past darkness, it was like reliving the summer except that the time felt stolen from a winter's meagre store of sunny days....

Roast Stuffed Winter Squash

These look and are irresistible.  The combination of all the different varieties on a plate is so colourful it does bring brief but distinct silence to the table.  They are also easy to make and can be prepared and put in the oven 30-45 minutes in advance of any eating.

Cut each squash in half and, with a sharp spoon, scrape out the seeds and fibrous surroundings.  Score a diagonal pattern into each fleshy inside, taking care of your hand!
Rub each half with soft butter, season and bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 160 degrees.

Meanwhile prepare the rice filling.  Sautee 1 finely chopped onion in butter and a little oil, add some finely chopped streaky bacon and a handful of chopped herbs.  Add a random mix of wild, basmati and wholegrain rice and about 1 pint of vegetable bouillon.  Put on the lid and let the rice cook until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Keep an eye on it as you may need to add more bouillon depending on the amount of rice you have added.  Simmer for about 30 minutes until the basmati is well cooked and the wild and wholegrain still have a fair bit of bite left in them.

Remove the squash from the oven and spoon in the rice, leaving any delicious little pools of butter that will have collected in the squash cavities.  Return to the oven for a further 30-45 minutes until the squash is soft and melting and the rice is a combination of a little nutty and very soft.  Towards the end of cooking, about 10 minutes, I sprinkled some of the squash with a little cheddar, Hegarty's, you could also use Parmesan.  The cheese was good and added a little saltiness to the rice.

Pork Fillet stuffed with Apricot and Apple
Pork fillet is delicious cooked in this way - it is moist, tasty and delicious and is great for a brunch.  For 8 people I cooked 2 fillets and as a lesson for the blog, I prepared it in two slightly different ways.

First make the stuffing but cooking 1 large onion, finely chopped, in 1 large knob of butter with a little oil in a pan.  Cook for 6-8 minutes until the onion has softened.  Add about 100g of chopped pancetta or streaky bacon and cook until any moisture has evaporated.  Add some freshly chopped herbs (thyme, sage,parsley, rosemary) and another large knob of butter.  Add 100g breadcrumbs and 100g finely chopped unsulphured apricots.  Mix well together to ensure that all the ingredients are coated with a herb butter.  I also grated half an apple in at the end to add an extra bit of moistness to the mixture.
Cool fully before stuffing the pork.

To prepare the pork, use a very sharp knife and trim off any visible fat and the fine membrane which surrounds the fillet.  It is important to remove this or the meat will shrink a little more than it should when cooked.  If you slide the point of a knife under the skin you will catch the fine transparent layer - try to remove as much of this as you can without removing the actual flesh.

Take the fillet and slice an even line half-way into the middle of the fillet, taking care not to cut through.  Then take each half to the left and right and split this open, thus opening the fillet thoroughly out flat.  If you find that it is not flattening out as evenly as you might like, place a piece of cling film over the top and hit it with a meat hammer or rolling pin - not too hard but enough to flatten the meat out. 

You are now ready to add the stuffing.  Take a handful of the cold stuffing and lay it in a thin line down the middle of the fillet.  Either close it up with a piece of string or with some pancetta or streaky bacon.  Both options are given below in the photographs.

For the tied option above, start at one end of the fillet.  Close the flesh over the stuffing and tie the string round it in a knot, leaving the string long on one side.  Work in 1/2 inch sections closing the meat around the stuffing. Run the long side of the string down the newly closed section and hold it on place while wrapping the string under and around the back of the fillet as you see above.  Repeat down the fillet and tie at the end.
Alternatively see below.

Lay the meat out on top of pancetta or streaky bacon slices and use it to wrap the meat tightly closed.

Wrap each fillet tightly in tinfoil and cook the oven at 180 degrees for 45 minutes. 
Serve warm with a homemade apple sauce.

Please take time to properly wash your boards and preparation equipment thoroughly with very hot soapy water after all meat preparation.  All surfaces, including those which may take splashes, should be wiped down with an antibacterial fluid after all food preparation.

Baked apples and plums with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream

This felt like a very lazy dessert but everything preceding this was oven baked, so it seemed like an obvious choice. 
Scatter cored, halved apples (skin on) and stoned half plums into a large baking tray. 
Melt approx. 75g butter in a pan adding about 5 tblslps sugar, cinnamon, 2 cloves and 2 pinches of freshly grated nutmeg.  I
Pour this over the apples and plums and toss the fruit to ensure that it is all well coated. 
Put it in the oven at 160 degrees for 45 minutes until the apples are soft but still whole.

For the toffee sauce, some non-measuring of ingredients occurred!

Add a small pile of golden caster sugar with a small pile of butter, it looked like equal quantities, stirring well as it melted. 
Bring it to the boil and cook at boiling point for about 5 minutes, stirring all the time. 
Turn down the heat and gradually add some double cream, stirring simultaneously. 
Taste as you go along, but take care not to burn your tongue or eat it all!

Serve drizzled over the apples with a large dollop of vanilla ice cream.

I will leave you with a suggestion to enjoy your garden for the next week or so, it will probably be the last chance you will get until next year.

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