As we begin our second year living in Virginia, we're also enjoying our second full Autumn. This has always been my favorite time of the year. Maybe it's the invigorating coolness in the air, the golden light and brightly colored leaves, or the fact that it's harvest time, but this inward-turning season always seems more hopeful. It's also when I'm happiest in my kitchen.
For four decades, we lived in a place where the only hint of the season before November was that golden light. The warmth and autumnal aromas that filled my kitchen often did not go with what was happening outdoors: The frost on the windows was on the outside, where the still-warm, humid air collided with glass chilled by the air conditioner.
So it's a blessing to once again be living in a place where we have real autumn weather and my kitchen's warmth is actually welcome. It's been fragrant with spicy pots of chili, mellow stews, chicken and dumplings, and apple and sweet potato pies.
One go-to technique that I use a lot at this time of year is pan-roasting. It's long on cozy aromas but short on heat when we have a run of Indian-summer days, and is an especially lovely technique for any cut of meat. It gives the long, slow cooking that tougher, bone-in cuts need, but is also ideal for boneless cuts of meat that may not need as much time, concentrating their flavors without making them dry and tough. It's also really simple and, once the initial browning is done, doesn't need a lot of the cook's attention.
Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Sage and Marsala
We eat a lot of pork tenderloins throughout the year but especially in the fall. They're economical, with almost no waste, and are really versatile, taking well to just about any cooking technique. They can be stewed, sautéed, cut into medallions that are flattened and fried in cutlets or scaloppine, grilled, and even oven roasted. But they take especially well to pan-roasting.
The flavorings here are sage, onion, and Marsala, which happened to be what was flourishing in my herb bed and on hand in my pantry. But they also happen to be some of the essential flavors of fall cooking. Accompanied by a simple herbed dressing, roasted sweet potatoes finished with a little brown sugar and cinnamon, and green peas with minced scallion and lots of butter, it made a real fall feast that was very little trouble.
1 pork tenderloin (about 1-1¼-pounds)
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
2 sprigs sage with at least 10 large leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small or ½ medium-large yellow onion, trimmed, split lengthwise, and sliced as thinly as possible
About ¾ cup Marsala
About ¾ cup homemade meat broth or canned beef and chicken broth in equal parts
About 2 teaspoons instant-blending or all-purpose flour
1. Trim the tenderloin of excess fat and if the butcher hasn't already done so, remove the fine membrane that covers it. Using a sharp paring or bird's beak trimming knife, remove the silver-skin (the stringy strip of connective tissue that is only on one side of the muscle). Pat it dry with paper towels.
2. Season all sides well with salt and pepper. Press large sage leaves onto two sides of the tenderloin, then turn under the narrow end so that the meat is a uniform thickness. Tie it securely with butcher's twine to hold it together, then wrap the tenderloin and tie it at 1-inch intervals to help hold the herb in place (this will also help it to have a more uniform shape that'll cook more evenly).
3. Film a deep, lidded 10-inch seasoned iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet with olive oil and warm it over medium heat. When the pan is hot, put in the tenderloin and raise the heat to medium high. Brown it well on all sides (about 2 minutes per side). When the meat is half-browned, add the onion to one side of the pan and sauté until it's wilted and golden brown, stirring often. If the tenderloin gets nicely browned before the onions are ready, remove it from the pan, then add it back when they're evenly colored and softened.
4. Slowly add enough marsala to cover the pan by at least ¼-inch, then slowly add enough broth to come halfway up the sides of the meat. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce to taste, bring it to a boil, and adjust the heat to a slow simmer. Cover the pan and cook, turning the meat every 5-6 minutes, until it is cooked through (at least 145 degrees F. on a meat thermometer).
5. Remove the pork to a warm plate or platter, loosely cover with foil (or if the pan lid is domed, with that). Raise the heat under the pan to medium and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any cooking residue. Blend the flour with enough water to make a paste the consistency of heavy cream. Using a flat whisk or wooden spoon, slowly stir in half the paste, stirring constantly, and simmer until it thickens. If the gravy isn't thick enough, stir in more of the flour paste a few drops at a time, taking care not to over-thicken it. Adjust the heat to low and let it simmer about 2 minutes longer, or until the flour has lost it's raw, pasty taste. Remove the pan from the heat.
6. Remove the twine from the tenderloin and slice it crosswise as thinly as possible. Drizzle it with some of the gravy, then pour the remaining gravy into a warm sauceboat or bowl. Serve with the gravy passed separately.