Strange though it may sound, my favorite sweater came to mind when I was plating this Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Figs for family dinner last week. The sweater is a cardigan: thick and nubby with a rosy hue and rather elaborate detailing at the shoulders. Every time I put it on, it gets mistaken for something it’s not: expensive, handmade, an indulgence, if you will. Whether I’m in line at the supermarket or waiting to pick up my kids at school, someone inevitably throws a compliment my way. And I always feel like a little bit of cheat, since it’s hardly the kind of hand crafted knitwear folks seem imagine. I picked up for under 30 bucks at mega retailer H & M.
Likewise, this pork looks sort of fancy, what with the roasted figs and all. It seems to be the sort of thing to save for a special occasion, kind of like my sweater. But here’s a little secret: it’s not what it seems. It’s all made in one pan, simple enough for a weeknight supper, and affordable relative to many other cuts of meat. To top it off, pork tenderloin is one of the leanest choices available, on par with skinless chicken breasts in fat content. What’s not to love?
When Fall rolls around each year, I always turn to pork for homey suppers, largely because it pairs so beautifully with all of the fruits of the season: apples, pears, quince and, of course, figs. Figs are ideal in this particular preparation since they are soft, so roast up nice and tender by the time the meat is cooked.
Pork tenderloin is boneless and relatively narrow, which makes cooking and carving a breeze. I’ve created a simple marinade punctuated with garlic, Dijon mustard, a touch of maple syrup, and rosemary. If you have the foresight, get the marinade going a couple of hours ahead of time. That said, even slathering it just before cooking will create plenty of flavor.
Start the pork in a large pan on the stovetop to sear in the marinade and get the exterior good and brown before it goes into the oven. As for cooking time, it really varies depending on how you like your pork. I prefer the inside a soft pink, so cook it to about 140 degrees in the center. The temperature will continue to rise a few degrees after it’s pulled from the oven. I will say here that the USDA recommends cooking it to 145 degrees, so you may want to use that as a guideline. Folks who like their meat more well done should aim closer to 150 or 155 degrees.
As for side dishes, a generous, crisp salad works nicely here. And since you already have your oven good and hot, consider roasting seasonal vegetables or little potatoes while you prepare and cook the pork.
When the meat is done, arrange it along with the figs on your prettiest platter and set it in front of your family or guests. Then, when they “ooh” and “ahh” and say, “I don’t know how you manage it,” just do what I do when people compliment my cardigan. Give them your biggest smile and say, “Thank you.” Some secrets are best kept to ourselves.
Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Figs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus 2 big sprigs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 1 to 1-1 /4 pound pork tenderloins
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 basket fresh figs (about 16 figs)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, divided
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove pork from the refrigerator 1/2 hour before cooking.
In a small bowl mix together the garlic, rosemary, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, salt, and a few healthy cracks of black pepper from a pepper grinder. Use your hands to coat the 2 tenderloins with the marinade. If you are marinating the pork a few hours ahead of time, wrap and refrigerate it until 1/2 hour before you are ready to cook.
Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil over high heat in an oven-proof skillet large enough to comfortably accommodate both tenderloins. Add the meat to the pan and cook on all sides until nicely browned. This will take a few minutes per side.
While the meat is browning, toss the figs in a medium bowl with the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of the balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Once the meat is browned, add the figs to the pan, nestle the two rosemary sprigs in there and put in the oven.
Cook until done. The time will vary depending on the thickness of the tenderloin and how you like your meat. Test for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the center of the thickest part of the tenderloin. For pinker tenderloin, remove it at 140 to 145 degrees degrees*. For more well done, cook it to 150 to 155 degrees. This will take 20 minutes, give or take a few.
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the meat to a carving board. Let it rest for at least five minutes. Cut the meat crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices and arrange on a platter with the figs. Add the dripping from carving the meat to the pan along with the remaining 2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and stir it together. Drizzle these pan drippings over the meat and figs, season with more salt and fresh black pepper. Serve immediately.
* The USDA recommends cooking pork to 145 degrees
Makes 6 to 8 servings