I had a fitful night's sleep Monday night. For whatever reason, visions of apple stuffed pork tenderloin kept dancing in my head and I was mesmerized trying to figure out how exactly I was going to make an apple stuffing that would stay in place inside of a pork tenderloin. I know what you're thinking...'this chick's a little nutso'. To quote Billy Joel, 'you may be right, I may be crazy, but I just might be the lunatic you're looking for!', at least when it comes to Bacon Wrapped Apple Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Gravy, Sauteed Gnocchi and Kickin' Kale!
Prior to going to bed Monday night, I was wondering what 'meat' I was going to cook. I often forget about pork tenderloin although, for the life of me, I don't know why. It's such an easy protein to work with, so nicely shaped and ready to be seared, sliced or roasted to whatever whims I might have for dinner. It's lean and healthy too, which should put it right up there at the top of my list. Sure, it's not a sexy, bone-in chop or seductive braised shoiulder, but with a little 'love and affection', (a little Joan Armatrading reference for my good friend Susan), the tenderloin can end up as an elegant dinner.
Before I could stuff my tenderloin, I had to make a stuffing to stuff it with. Given that apples were to be the star of the stuffing right from the get go, I only had to consider the other ingredients. What else goes well with pork? The first herb that came to mind was sage. Sage is native to Mediterranean regions and in Britain, sage has for generations been listed as an essential herb along with parsley, rosemary and thyme, (and now Simon and Garfunkel's 'Scarborough Fair', resonates in my head...is there no wonder that my husband gave me a decorative tea towel that says, 'My kitchen was made for dancing!'). Sage has a savory, lightly peppery taste and it appears in many European cuisines, notably Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern cooking. In British and American cooking, sage is commonly found in stuffing for chicken and turkey, but it's also quite popular with pork dishes and in sausages. So my stuffing would be apples, sage, bread and instead of onion, I chose to use shallots. First I sauteed the apples, then added the shallot and sage. When the shallot and apples were soft, I transferred the mixture to a bowl and combined it with bread crumbs, a beaten egg and a little no salt added chicken broth just to bind it all together. While the stuffing cooled, I moved on to butterflying my pork tenderloin. If you're not familiar with how to butterfly a pork tenderloin, you can watch this video and you'll be a pro in no time!
Once my pork tenderloin was stuffed and wrapped with bacon slices, I seared it in an oven proof skillet for a few minutes on all sides before placing it in a 375F oven for approximately one hour. While the pork was browning on top of the stove, I scrubbed my potatoes, and pricked them with a fork, and they too were ready for the oven, which is the best way to prepare potatoes when you're making gnocchi. (I haven't got any musical references for gnocchi unfortunately).
Gnocchi are thick, soft dough dumplings made from semolina, ordinary wheat flour, egg, cheese, potato, bread crumbs and similar inredients. Gnocchi is quite common in Italian cuisine but variations are also found in Croatia, France and South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. In Uruguay and Argentina there is a tradition of eating gnocchi on the 29th of each month with some people putting money beneath their plate to bring prosperity. Gnocchi dates make to ancient Roman times and it wasn't until the 16th century when the potato was introduced to Europe that potatoes became a key ingredient.
Why did I chose to make gnocchi with this meal you might ask? I really don't know to tell you the truth other than I needed a starch for the plate and when I decided potatoes were to be that starch, I wanted to do something special with them. Once my potatoes were baked, and while they were still warm, I added one egg per potato, one cup of all purpose flour per potato, and seasoned it with a little salt and pepper. I also decided to add a little ground nutmeg just to heighten the flavour profile a little bit. After kneading my 'dough', I divided it into 3, rolled each 1/3 into a 1 inch wide snake, and cut off 1 inch pieces, and voila! Gnocchi! I lightly dusted each little pillow of potato with flour before dropping them into a big pot of boiling salted water. You know the gnocchi is done when they float to the top, which takes only about 2 to 3 minutes. Removing the cooked gnocchi with a slotted spoon, I then quickly sauteed them in a little butter, and when golden, I sprinkled them with some grated Parmesan cheese - Sauteed Gnocchi..perfect with stuffed pork tenderloin!
The last piece of this dinner puzzle was Kickin' Kale. Originally, when I set out for the grocery store, I was going to get some collard greens and make Kickin' Collard Greens, but when I walked into the store, there, brightly beaming in a bin right in front of me was fresh, local, organic Black Kale. How could I resist? I decided to 'kick it out', (Heart, 'Kick It Out'), with kale! Both kale and collard greens are members of the family of cruciferous vegetables that also includes broccoli and cauliflower. Both are rich in vitamins A and K, although kale boosts the higher vitamin content having five times as much vitamin A as collard greens, and almost three times as much Vitamin K.
Both kale and collard greens have a range of B vitamins including B1, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, B5 and B6. These nutrients all help with metabolism and help maintain healthy skin and hair. Although both kale and collard greens contain vitamin C, kale far outshines collard greens in this regard. One cup of collard greens has 12.7mg vitamin C, which is 17% of the Recommended Daily Amount for women, and 14% RDA for men. Not bad...but the same amount of kale has 80.4 mg of vitamin C, which is 100% RDA for women, and 89% RDA for men. Both also contain essential minerals including potassium, phosphorous, copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. too, but kale is also higher in calcium and iron than collard greens.
Given that both vitamin A and K are fat soluble vitamins, foods containing them should be cooked with some sort of fat. Adding a small amount of oil to your kale or collard greens allows your body to properly absorb these vitamins so you can reap the full nutritional benefits. I decided to cook my kale with a little bacon, my thought being, if I have to use a fat to aid in the absorption of vitamins A and K, I might as well make it a fat I love. For my Kickin' Kale, I cut some bacon up into one inch pieces and cooked it until it was almost crispy. I removed it from the pan, crumbled it and returned it to the pan and sauteed it with some finely chopped onion, then garlic and a pinch or two of dry pepper flakes, and then, when the onion and garlic were fragrant, I added my kale so that it would wilt a little. When the kale started to wilt, I poured in some no salt added chicken broth, seasoned with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper put a lid on the pot, reduced the heat to medium low and let the kale cook for about 45 minutes.
I know it might seem like I was all over the place with this meal prep, but from start to finish, the whole meal was ready inside of an hour and a half, with most of that time being actual undisturbed cooking time. Knowing that each of the three dishes I had decided on for this meal had a time component, I set out a little 'Plan of Action' for myself, that went something like this:
4:15 pm: Scrub and prep potatoes for oven, prep apple stuffing, preheat oven to 375F, butterfly, stuff and then tie up pork tenderloin. Pan sear stuffed pork tenderloin.
4:30 pm: Place seared stuffed pork tenderloin and potatoes in oven
5:15 pm: Start Kickin' Kale dish
5:30 pm, remove potatoes from oven, and (using oven mitts...don't be like me and forget to wear oven mitts!), scoop potato out into large bowl and make dough for gnocchi. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil
5:45 Remove pork tenderloin from oven, turn off oven, place tenderloin on oven proof platter, cover with foil and place back in oven to keep warm. Make Apple Cider Gravy from pan drippings. Add gnocchi to boiling water.
5:50 pm: Let Apple Cider Gravy simmer, using slotted spoon, place boiled gnocchi in large skillet over medium high heat with melted butter and saute until golden, then sprinkle on some grated parmesan cheese. Remove pork tenderloin from oven and slice.
6:00 pm: Serve sliced Bacon Wrapped Apple Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Gravy, Sauteed Gnocchi and Kickin' Kale
6:05 pm: Pat yourself on the back!
This was a restaurant worthy meal if ever I made one! The subtle flavourings of apples and sage inside of the roasted pork tenderloin, moist and juicy topped with the slightly acrid Apple Cider Gravy, alongside fluffy pillows of potato gnocchi and the wonderful taste of bacon flavoured kale kicked up with a little heat from the red pepper flakes is going to be a hard dnner to top. Bacon Wrapped Apple Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Gravy, Sauteed Gnocchi and Kickin' Kale....sweet dreams are made of this, who am I to disagree?