Roasted Pork Loin with Gingered Rhubarb Chutney

I had all but given up hope on finding more rhubarb this spring, after my earlier, monthlong, city-wide search that resulted in my first few stalks of this tart, springtime treasure. But my sweet-toothed husband, Les, made a bold announcement after his first taste of the Rhubarb-Berry Crunch dessert—“OK, I like rhubarb,” so the hunt was on for more. I lucked out, at the same store I had found it before, and I bought the last of what they had. As with any rare find, I have been trying to ration my rhubarb stash to enjoy it in as many forms as possible, and I have a few more ideas brewing in the back of my mind that I’ll spring on you soon.

The ginger addition to the rhubarb filling in the crunch dessert was so delicious; I wanted to pair the flavors again in a sweet-meets-savory chutney for pork roast. A smart lesson I learned in my part-time catering years was the easy trick of “echoing” flavors across various dishes in a meal, and I put that idea fully to work here, giving the chutney a shout out with complementary flavors in both the brine and dry rub. I incorporated cardamom, star anise, more ginger and one colorful ingredient I purchased recently from the gourmet kitchen section of TJ Maxx:

These pretty little dried berries are not related to black peppercorns, and they are very easy to crush.

I’ve seen them, of course, but didn’t know much about pink peppercorns, other than their occasional appearance in one of the “mélange” blends that goes into my Peugeot peppermill. As it turns out, pink peppercorns are not related to black pepper at all! They are named merely for their resemblance to peppercorns and also for their slight peppery flavor, but they are brighter and fruitier than ordinary pepper, and they turned out to be a nice complement to the tart rhubarb. They are also much softer than regular peppercorns, as I learned when I easily crushed them with my mortar and pestle. Another fact about pink peppercorns—one that is more on the serious side—they are closely related to cashews, so they pose a significant safety risk to anyone with allergies to tree nuts (yikes).

The pork loin was a great find at a local farmer’s market. The seller was mindful to point out the advantages of local, pastured pork, which is more humane and sustainable than most conventional processes, and I have no problem paying the higher cost for those benefits. It is also more flavorful than typical, bland grocery store cuts. The loin is a very lean cut, prone to become dry, so I brined it for a few hours before roasting. The end result was perfectly tender, juicy and flavorful, and the gingered chutney was just the right touch, though a bit intense for Les, so I would ease up on the ginger next time. We served this delicious roast with simple boiled red potatoes and our favorite homemade collard greens, another prize from the farmer’s market.

I dipped each slice in the roast pan juices before serving with the gingered rhubarb chutney. A perfect Sunday Supper!

The extra layers of attention that I gave to this meal earns it a spot in my Sunday Supper category, which I suspect has been feeling a little neglected recently. We have done a lot of very casual cooking at our house in recent months, but after so many weeks of playing “hard to get,” this rhubarb deserved a special seat at the table. Enjoy!


Ingredients & Instructions

Brine for pork loin

2 1/4 lb. pasture-raised pork loin

4 cups cold water

1/4 cup canning and pickling salt (or kosher salt)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 Tbsp. crushed pink peppercorns

2 cardamom pods, crushed

1 piece star anise

Be sure your brine container is non-reactive; a large, deep glass bowl works great. It isn’t necessary to heat the water, as pickling or kosher salt will dissolve pretty easily. If you do choose to heat the water for quicker dissolving, be sure the brine has time to cool completely before you add the roast to it.

Stir brine ingredients until salt and sugar are dissolved; submerge pork loin, cover and refrigerate 4 to 5 hours; remove from brine, pat dry all over with paper towels. Rest a few minutes, pat dry again, then follow rub instructions.


Rub for pork loin

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. five spice powder

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Spray olive oil onto dried pork loin, and sprinkle rub all over, especially the lean surfaces. Let roast remain uncovered at room temperature for about an hour before roasting.

Preheat oven to 450° F. Place loin roast (fat side up) on rack above parchment-lined baking sheet, or inside a shallow glass baking dish. Roast at 450° for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400° and roast or convect roast for 30 to 45 additional minutes, or more as needed to reach 145° F internal temp. Rest at least 10 minutes, then slice thinly. Dip slices into any clean pan drippings for extra flavor at serving.


Rhubarb Apple Chutney

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced sweet onion

½ tsp. pink peppercorn, crushed

1 cardamom pod, crushed

1 heaping cup diced rhubarb

1/2 cup chopped apple

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 Tbsp. minced crystallized ginger

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Kosher salt and black pepper

Leaves from about two sprigs of fresh thyme

Heat olive oil in a small saucepan and sauté onions until softened. Season with salt and pepper, pink pepper and crushed cardamom pods. Add rhubarb and apple and toss to combine. Add brown sugar and crystallized ginger. Cook over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved and fruit begins to break down. Add vinegar and continue to cook over low heat until fruit is completely softened and mixture is thickened. Stir in thyme leaves. If not using immediately, chill then reheat.




Rhubarb-Berry Crunch

For at least three weeks, I had been watching all the markets I shop, waiting and hoping to see fresh stalks of spring rhubarb. It doesn’t seem to be a very popular item here in the South, or at least not as much as in my old stomping grounds in upstate N.Y., and there’s good reason—the winter soil is too warm in North Carolina. Rhubarb thrives in areas that have very cold winters, making it a common plant in the snow belt. Some folks around here have never even had the pleasure of tasting it.

When I was young, I remember my Gram always had rhubarb growing near a small outbuilding shed behind her house, and plenty of it. To find it locally, however, takes patience. When I do see it here, it is usually a small quantity, quite expensive, and often placed in one of the obscure sections of the refrigerated case, near the other “weird” produce items (think horseradish root and kohlrabi). I had even checked at the local farmer’s market, to no avail. One grocery produce manager, when asked about the expected arrival of rhubarb, looked puzzled and asked, “what does it look like?”

I always look forward to seeing these red beauties in the spring!

By the time rhubarb makes it to the supermarket, the leaves have been stripped, and just as well—they are loaded with oxalic acid, so they are inedible and even toxic. The stems, which range in color from bright red to pink to pale green, look like smooth celery stalks and they are equally crisp in texture. I am hard-pressed to describe the flavor of rhubarb other than to say that it is tart, maybe like a cross between a green apple and a lemon. Although technically a vegetable that can be eaten raw, most people cook rhubarb with sugar and use it as a fruit, especially in pies, crumbles, jams and preserves.

My Gram made a delicious rhubarb sauce that was as delicious to me as any applesauce, and I remember asking for it as a topping on vanilla ice cream. In the summer of 2011, on my last visit with my grandmother, who had relocated to Montana to be near my aunt, we enjoyed this dessert together. Lucky for me, my aunt happily shared her recipe for this yummy dessert, which is very adaptable to include other fruits, especially strawberry. Aunt Joy and I were reminiscing the other day about the times I visited her house when I was young, and she made memorable, mouthwatering strawberry-rhubarb jam. It’s a fantastic flavor combination!

Just a couple of days before my mandoline accident, when I decided to shave that extra 1/8” off the end of my finger, I had been overjoyed to finally find fresh rhubarb in one of the markets I shop. My usual time in the kitchen has been abbreviated by my injury (which is driving me crazy, if you want to know the truth), but I have a wonderful and willing husband, Les, who has been my “hands” for some the kitchen tasks that are tricky for me right now. I won’t say that it has all been smooth sailing (I am a bit of a bossy britches), but we are getting better at working together to make some great food, including this fabulous dessert. Les did all the washing and cutting of fresh ingredients, and I did more of the mixing.

The filling is perfectly cooked and slightly sticky, and the oat topping is crunchy in all the right places. Served warm with vanilla ice cream, this is springtime heaven for my taste buds!

This delicious crunch was Les’s first-ever taste of rhubarb, so I leaned a little heavier on the strawberry than I otherwise would. I expected that his sweet tooth might reject the tartness of rhubarb on its own, but he really enjoys the flavor, so next time, I will go all-in with rhubarb. Assuming, of course, I can find it. 😊


Filling Ingredients

1 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cleaned and diced

1 1/2 cups strawberries, cleaned and halved

1/2 cup cane sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground ginger


Topping Ingredients

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour* (see notes)

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 stick (8 Tbsp.) salted cold butter

Pinch of kosher salt


*Notes

My aunt’s original recipe calls for 1 cup sugar, but I split the amount between regular and brown sugars. I use brown sugar in strawberry shortcake and love the rich, warm flavor. Use all regular sugar if you prefer.

I like to use some portion of whole wheat flour in all my baked goods, but if you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour, increase the amount of all-purpose to 3/4 cup.


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in center of oven.
  2. Toss together rhubarb, sugar, flour and ginger transfer into a buttered 8 x 8 glass baking dish.
  3. Use a pastry blender or pulse with food processor to combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter until mixture appears as crumbs. Toss or lightly pulse with oats just to combine.
  4. Spread oat topping over rhubarb filling. Sprinkle the top with a pinch of kosher salt.
  5. Bake at 350° for about 40 minutes, until oat topping is browned and crunchy, and filling is bubbling up around it.
  6. Serve warm, perhaps with vanilla ice cream. Store leftovers in the refrigerator, and reheat for additional servings.
I especially loved serving this in my Gram’s dainty, vintage dishes. Aunt Joy sent these to me after Gram passed away.