Jennifer (my wife) and I often have discussions about how certain things came to be an accepted, standard part of our food repertoire. Imagine the first person to eat a lobster. I love lobster as much as anybody, but what would possess someone to eat that unless someone else told them it was good? Just today, we were contemplating popcorn. How is it that someone made the leap from a simple ear of corn to movie theater staple? We agreed that it was probably an accident, but I took it a step further and hypothesized that it was probably the result of an argument between an early Native American married couple.
The wife discovers that her husband has left their corn out in the sun for the 46th time, and, once again, it has dried out. Only this time, she's had enough, throws an ear at his...ear...and it misses, landing in their fire. As she continues to yell at him, he notices that it's "popping". His attention is so riveted on the corn that he forgets she's yelling at him, at which point, she gets even angrier at him for not listening to her, and voila! He's sleeping in the doghouse that night. At least he had a tasty snack!
Another food mystery that intrigues me is the combination of fruit and pork. Sure, other meats benefit from the addition of various fruits, but for some reason, the marriage of pork and fruit tends to be an especially happy one (unlike Mr. and Mrs. Popcorn above). Whether it's the classic pork chops and applesauce or the apricot and prune stuffed pork loin that I grew up with (that recipe is coming later, and it's an excellent one!), the pairing of pork and fruit ranks right up there in the world of culinary unions with macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and, most importantly, beer and pretzels.
So when I first saw this recipe for blueberry-onion sauced pork tenderloin, I should have known better than to be skeptical. For some reason, though, I was a doubter, and my expectations were pretty low the first time I made it. All doubts were removed the moment I took the first bite, however, and this has become one of my go-to recipes, whether for entertaining or a lazy Thursday night. I would have never thought to put blueberries, onions, tomatoes, and pork together, but the combination is a good one, and the dish does not disappoint.
I usually pair this with a great orzo recipe that also includes fruit, and I've included that below as a bonus recipe. One of the great things about this orzo recipe is that it can be held in an ovenproof serving dish in a warm oven (250 degrees) for 10-15 minutes until ready to serve. This makes it an extra nice dish to serve for entertaining because it can wait while you finish the pork.
Blueberry-Onion Sauced Pork Tenderloin
2 tablespoons cooking oil (my preference is peanut oil)
3/4 to 1 pound pork tenderloin
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup sweet vermouth (port wine or sweet sherry could be used as a substitute)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat cooking oil. Season pork with salt and pepper, then add to skillet and sear until all sides have a nice, brown crust. Transfer to broiler pan, place in the oven, and cook until internal temperature of tenderloin reaches 145 degrees, about 20 minutes. Remove to a platter; cover with foil to keep warm.
Meanwhile, in the same skillet you used to sear the pork, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onions are golden, about 10 minutes. Add sugar and continue cooking until the onions are caramelized, about 3 minutes longer. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits that remain on the bottom of the pan. Cook until slightly reduced and syrupy, about 4-5 minutes. At this point, I will often smash some of the tomatoes using the back of a spoon or a potato masher, but this is completely optional.
Remove from heat. Thinly slice pork and serve with sauce and orzo (recipe below).
recipe adapted from Michelle Urvater
2 cups orzo
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dried apricots, plumped in sweet vermouth
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1-2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cook orzo according to package instructions, replacing water with chicken broth. Drain as necessary. Drain apricots (save the vermouth and use in the pork recipe above!), chop them into small pieces, and add to orzo along with 4 tablespoons butter. Stir until combined and butter has melted. Season with salt and pepper, and put into serving dish.
Saute almonds in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter with cinnamon sugar until just starting to brown and they smell toasty. Be careful - they will go from just brown to burned very quickly! Sprinkle over the orzo and serve.