We have a local mall which now has a fresh market every first and third Saturday of the month. It’s combination farmer’s and kitsch market, with produce vendors, people who jar their own pasta sauce, craft booths, and the like. There’s always a band no one is listening to. When the weather is nice, which is usually is here in Florida, it’s a pleasant stop-off on our morning shopping. We’ll often comb the market for ideas for both feeding ourselves and the Monday Night Gamers.
We came up with two great finds this week. The first included beautiful, large, round bell peppers in both red and orange. The second was at one of our go-to stands, Pappardelle’s Pasta. We found saffron, roasted red pepper, and porcini orzo. We immediately knew the second was getting stuffed inside the first.
We brainstormed what else to put into the orzo and came up with a simple bit of asparagus and leek. The accompaniment in my mind’s eye was a sliced meat of some kind. My first thought was some kind of flank steak, but I settled on pork tenderloin. I realized that I could crust the pork with whatever I wanted to set off the flavors of the pepper and orzo.
ORZO-STUFFED PEPPERS (serves 6)
6 large red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, halved vertically
1 ½ pounds orzo
1 pound asparagus, cut into small medallions
2 medium leeks, halved down the middle then sliced thin
1 pound Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
Making the peppers was easy, if a little time-consuming. While the pasta was cooking, I sautéed the leeks in a few tablespoons of olive oil until they were tender. In the last minute, I tossed in the asparagus just to get it mixed in with the flavor of the leek. I set that aside while the orzo finished. Once it was done, I drained it, returned it to the pot, then mixed in the asparagus and leek. I then slowly mixed in the shredded cheese, which was there mostly as a binding agent.
We had previously experimented with peppers. We had found we preferred the vertical slice, which allows you to lay the pepper on its side for easier stuffing. The traditional way of cutting off the top and stuffing the pepper makes slightly better presentation, assuming the pepper doesn’t fall on its side in the oven.
We stuffed each pepper half full, slightly rounded on the top, then baked them at 425F for 40-45 minutes, turning it down to 400F for the last 10 minutes. When they came out, we plated them with some steamed broccoli and slices of pork tenderloin.
GARLIC-DIJON CRUSTED PORK TENDERLOIN (serves 4)
2 one-pound pork tenderloins
5 gloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons Penzey’s Pasta Sprinkle
We’re big fans of Penzey’s spices. The pasta sprinkle is a simple blend of basil, oregano, garlic, and thyme, which is pretty much what I was going to use anyway. If I had some dried rosemary, I might have tossed that in as well.
I normally get three tenderloins when I make them for the gamers, but I wanted the meat to be the side dish here, not the main feature. The peppers and orzo were filling enough on their own not to be overloaded with meat.
Crusting pork tenderloins is really easy. I mixed together all the ingredients. I then rinsed and patted down the tenderloins, putting them on a foil-lined baking sheet. I spooned half of the mustard mixture onto each, then (with kitchen gloves on, more to keep down the mess) simply rubbed the mixture all over the tenderloin, making sure everything was completely covered. I then popped them into the a 375F oven for 25 minutes, letting them rest another five before slicing them.
My friend Brian David-Marshall is a bit of a pork tenderloin fan, and I always turn to him for advice when I have questions about it. He cooks his to 140F for himself, and “145 for company.” I agree with him. There’s no reason to overcook pork these days. Pink and juicy is just fine. I pulled them out of the oven at about 142. They cooked up to about 147 before I cut them.
The wine we poured with this was 2011 Accademia dei Racemi Anarkos Puglia IGT, an inexpensive Pugliese blend of Negroamaro, Malvasia Nero, and Primitivo. I thought the floral qualities of the grapes would go relatively well with the aromatic dish. The wine reminded me somewhat of a Petite Sirah in that regard. If I were to serve this dish in the future, I’d either go with a straight Petite Sirah or up the scale a little bit (about $35), Robert Foley The Griffin, a powerful blend of 52% Merlot, 32% Petite Sirah, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Syrah, and 1% Petit Verdot.
As a group, we were divided 50/50 over whether or not we liked the layer of orzo on the top of the peppers being a little crunchy. Some of us thought it gave the dish another layer of texture, some of us thought that it was distracting. Regardless of our disagreement there, we all agreed that the dish was an unqualified success. We’ll be sure to have it again.