Some years we have no bunnies at all in our yard. Other times, such as now, we are overrun by the the dreaded chomper-hoppers. (Have you ever seen one hop straight up 4 feet or more? They can. ) I blame it on the lack of outdoor cats and our local bob cat family temporarily taking up residence in the next subdivision over. While cute, especially when oh so very small, they eat everything we don’t want them to eat but perversely leave the weeds for us to pull.
Additionally, they are Rosie’s nemeses, which if you’re unaware (as was I), is the plural of nemesis. She will run at full tilt barking wildly and evermore furiously from window to window and door to door until the unfazed pink-eared offender lops off. Really, nothing bothers bunnies in our yard, though sometimes Dave or I will run outside to shoo one away. Not much is worth listening to Rosie get hysterical over. They’ve dug a hole in my north shade garden right in the middle of the hostas and you can be sure they’re breeding like rabbits down there. (Rabbits have 2-6 litters a year. How could that be?) Critters.
All this is the longwinded blogger’s way of admitting we can’t plant greens out in the garden, but are reduced to growing them in pots on the deck. By next year, we may have invested in a string of window boxes that we can plant every week or two to ensure a steady supply of what will still end up being very expensive salad ingredients. (How many heads of lettuce can you buy for the cost of building 4 window boxes and buying liners? Let’s talk about the price of water at altitude in the west, too.) Meanwhile we’re in luck because when you clip arugula, it grows back like a lizard’s tail. At least we’re hoping it will as we’re still hungry.
When I realized these peppery greens were ready for harvesting (any bigger and they’ll get pretty tough), I wanted not just a dinner salad made of their crispy goodness, but rather a meal that celebrated their innate “It’s Not Easy Being Green” personality. They needed to be a star player at dinner, not a wannabe sideliner or opening act. So it was time to get out a great platter. (Thrift stores are great places for platters.)
The hour to peruse the freezer for meat that would help showcase my leaves was now. I needed to paw through the vegetable bins for sparkly or shiny accessories to set them off. A lean, meaty pork tenderloin — great piece of meat for 2 with wonderful leftovers — was soon defrosting and packages of drooping asparagus and mushrooms were marked for rescue. A simple plan evolved for a whole meal salad consisting of greens on the outside of the platter with the grilled meat at the center surrounded by the other vegetables, which I’d sauté to give a bit of textural change on the plate. A perky lemon vinaigrette over all would be summertime perfection and is the simplest of dressings to prepare. In fact, the entire meal would prove to be rapid and nearly effortless.
WANT TO ROAST THE PORK IN THE OVEN? You’ll brown it first on the stove top before finishing it off in a 400 degrees F oven.
From beginning to end, you’re going to spend 30-40 minutes making my salad plus the time it takes to heat the grill. So have the table set, the wine poured, and anything else you need ready ahead of time (bread? butter?), including cleaning and drying the greens. While the pork grills, you’ll sauté the vegetables, make the lemon vinaigrette, and then in a New York minute you’ll be sitting down at the table to try this:
Pork Tenderloin and Vegetables on Arugula with Lemon Vinaigrette
- Pork tenderloin (1 – 1 1/2 pounds)
- Canola or other neutral oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, or 1 tablespoon dried
- Olive oil
- 8 ounces each sliced mushrooms, any sort and asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ small red onion-peeled and sliced thinly
- Garlic clove, minced
- 4 cups fresh baby arugula
- Lemon Vinaigrette – recipe in notes below
- ½ small ripe tomato- cut into small dice for garnish
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley for garnish
- Parmigiano-Reggiano-shaved for garnish
- GRILL THE PORK: Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 – 450 degrees F). Pat dry the tenderloin and remove, if necessary, the silver skin (connective tissue) with a small sharp knife. Brush the pork with oil and sprinkle all over with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper, and 2 tablespoons minced fresh or 1 tablespoon dried (rub between your fingers before using) rosemary, pressing the spices into the meat. Grill the pork over direct medium heat with the lid closed, turning twice, until the outsides are evenly seared and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center registers 145 degrees F – about 20 minutes. Let pork rest 3-5 minutes. Slice thinly. (If one end of the tenderloin is very thin, tuck it under and secure it with toothpicks or a skewer so that it doesn’t overcook.)
- SAUTÉ MUSHROOMS + ASPARAGUS WITH ONION/GARLIC: While the pork cooks, heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high flame and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is quite hot, stir in the mushrooms, asparagus, and onion. Season with a ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until just barely tender, adding the garlic for the last minute. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.
- DRESS THE GREENS: When the pork is cooked and resting, add the arugula to a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle lightly with lemon vinaigrette and toss gently and thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings or add a bit more vinaigrette if needed.
- ARRANGE FOR SERVING/GARNISH: Place the dressed arugula evenly around the outside of the platter. Carefully add the pork to the center of the greens and spoon the asparagus mixture around the meat. Down the center of the tenderloin, place the diced tomato and then the minced parsley on top of that. Serve while meat is warm, passing a small pitcher of the lemon vinaigrette at the table.
WINE: Pork and mushrooms to my mind often call for Pinot Noir, but with the peppery arugula here, I chose an inexpensive French red Côtes du Rhône, which contains a high percentage of Syrah –a perfect match for a little spice. If you’d like an American version of rhone, check out wineries in Paso Robles, California.
SO WHAT’S UP WITH THOSE “LEFTOVERS?” HOW DO WE COOK ONCE AND EAT TWICE OR THRICE, EVEN?
The word “leftovers” often has a bit of a nasty ring to it. Brings to mind images of cold slabs of old food tossed out on paper plates just as they are. Yikes, unless you’re tired and starved, that is. I prefer to think ahead, if I can, to planning for a second or third meal out of anything I cook. It looks something like this: You make meatballs and marinara with spaghetti one day and you cook up a little extra of everything. The marinara becomes the dip for grilled cheese zucchini for lunch; extra meatballs are frozen for the next Sunday’s frittata. The rest of the cooked pasta is chopped, sautéed with hot peppers and onions, and layered with fresh greens and lots of parmesan for the next night’s dinner. One delectable thing leads to another if we’re lucky in the kitchen. If there’s enough of that pasta, it might be the side for a little grilled chicken and fill in the “What’s for dinner?” blank one more time. If you’ve thrown onto the grill an extra chicken breast, there’s enough for chicken salad on toast for two or three for tomorrow’s lunch. And that’s how it goes. On and on. Until it’s time to start over again.
So this pork tenderloin salad feeds 4 — or 2 twice, right? If you don’t like the idea of salad again, you can also take its ingredients, warm them quite briefly in a greased skillet, add them to crispy hot corn tortillas, top with some creamy blue cheese pieces, and call it Pork Tacos or even Fusion Pork Tacos. Why not? I may have added a little fresh lettuce and a few more diced tomatoes. No sauce needed, though you could drizzle a bit of sriracha if you like. Don’t forget a cold beer. Want both the salad and the tacos for 4? Double the ingredients; two pork tenderloins are just as easy to cook as one and will take no longer.
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The weather is warming; the skies are blue. While the waffling heat of high summer isn’t among my favorite things, I miss friends eating dinner on the deck, icy rosé on the front porch with the neighbors, and planning for a Father’s Day cookout and a 4th of July picnic. Next year in Jerusalem! In the meantime, cook for yourselves, and/or share with a friend or two. People are thrilled to get a text saying some goodie is on their front porch. Wouldn’t you be?
Thanks for reading and keeping me company in the kitchen; it means a lot,