We have a fraught relationship with our fruit trees in Umbria. They were among the first trees we planted, over 20 years ago. And although we give them love, fertilizer and careful pruning, they have never been as productive as we had envisioned.
At least that is the story we tell ourselves.
But in reality? Only some of the trees are stingy in their bounty. The nectarine, peach and apricot have never really caught on. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually tasted a peach from one of our trees before disease, pest or bird got to it first. And the hazelnut tree? Never one single solitary nut. Ever. Apples , plums and pears are hit or miss, from year to year.
But a few trees, despite looking forlorn and half dead, do end up filling a basket or two of fruit each year. The problem is, they are always the exact fruits that take the most work to get anywhere near the table or onto a plate.
Almonds, for instance. We have bushels and bushels of almonds. But you know how much work goes into getting a tiny sliver of almond out of its husk and shell? A lot. Just ask Domenico. (I don’t even attempt it since it involves a hammer, a rock and a lot of cursing)
And quince. Somehow, despite all odds, our little misshapen quince tree gives us kilos and kilos of the bright yellow fuzzy fruit each year. Which sounds lovely, and is….I guess. But like almonds, quince are a pain to deal with.
They are rock hard and I’ve risked losing a finger trying to cut them up. Peeling their fuzzy skin off is equally daunting. Yet their allure is too much to resist and I’ve worked their sweet tart flesh into crostata, crisps as well as putting up jars of poached quince and have even made quince jam.
Last week we to Rome from Umbria with three big shopping bags full of quince. I then I managed to successfully ignore them for about 5 days. But the guilt finally worked its magic, and I faced my foe. Kind of.
This past Saturday we had a small dinner party. So I thought I’d make ‘dinner party’ food. In other words, a roast. I almost never roast meat if it’s just Domenico and me. But since Gillian and Mark were walking all the way over to our house (1 and a half blocks!) I figured a big bowl of pasta was not going to do it.
So I picked up a pork loin at the farmer’s market. This cut of meat is called arista in Italian, and although I’ve cooked it many times before, I thought I’d ask the butcher for his advice. Like almost every butcher I’d ever asked in Rome, he gave me the same advice:
“Brown the meat well, in a bit of oil. When it’s browned, add the odori (carrots, celery and onions) salt and pepper. Let that cook for a bit, then add a bit of water, cover and cook for about 40 minutes. At the end, add a cup of wine, let it boil off and then let the roast rest for 10 minutes before serving.”
Exactly the same recipe I’ve gotten from every butcher I’ve ever asked. Every time.
Which is actually a pretty great recipe.
But this time I decided to quince things up, which made a huge difference. In addition to the regular odori, I added six quince, which I painfully peeled, cored and cut up into cubes. And it was fantastic. If you’re like me, then the pairing of applesauce and pork is a natural one. But quince is ever so much better. The quince added a strong tartness to the entire dish that went perfectly with the cooked pork and earthy vegetables. And unlike apples, they don’t just turn to mush. While I used wine, I would have used a bit of freshly squeezed orange juice if I had had it (and which the butcher also suggested).
Sorry for the rather dim photos of the pork and the even dimmer photos of the table setting. But it was a dinner party, not a photo shoot, and so a lot of cocktails, wine and amaro happened.You’re actually lucky I remembered to take any photos at all.
The upshot is that the dish was fantastic, and I managed to use up six of our quince in a new and delicious way. Now I just have to tackle the other 45. Anyone want to help?
- 1.5 kilo / 3 pounds boneless pork loin
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- salt, pepper
- 3 carrots
- 1 medium onion
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 bay leave
- 6 quince
- 1 cup of white wine
- Generously season the pork loin with salt and pepper after you have patted it dry with paper towel. Let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
- Dice carrots, celery and onion.
- Prepare the quinces by cutting them in quarters, peeling, coring and then cutting them into ½ inch cubes (more or less)
- In a Dutch casserole, pour in the olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, brown the meat well on all sides.
- Once the meat is brown, add the chopped vegetables. Stir well, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Let this mixture cook for about ten minutes, until the onion is softened.
- Add the quinces, stir and add a cup of water. Turn down to a simmer, and cover, leaving the lid a bit askew.
- After about 20 minutes turn the roast over and keep cooking for another 15 minutes.
- Uncover, add the wine and turn up the heat, letting the wine evaporate. Turn off heat and let the roast rest for at least 10 minutes. If you are not quite ready to serve it yet, just keep the lid on to keep it warm.
- To serve: Slice the roast into ½ slices and arrange on a platter. If the pan juices with the quince have cooled off, heat them and then pour on top of the roast.