Fall (and Fancy Pork Chops)

I am a fall convert. Growing up in southern California, where we didn’t really have seasons in the proper sense, summer was always the main attraction, the season for camping in the mountains and fishing a the cabin. But, since moving north to Minnesota, fall has captured my attention. I have come to enjoy wearing sweaters and stomping around in boots and feeling the crispness in the morning air.

The coming of winter lends an urgency to everything in fall. The fish and the fishermen become a little more urgent, both knowing that the season is coming to an end.  There is the urge to sneak out for just a few more minutes every afternoon, to get as many casts in as possible before the long winter of fly-tying and reminiscing.

And even the garden takes on a hurriedness. The shortening days and the uncertainty of the first frost date adds an extra stress to the effort to get the garlic in the ground and to protect the plants for the winter.

I have come to love fall because it is a fleeting season. In summer or winter, I can always convince myself that it’s too cold or too muggy to go outside, but fall in Minnesota inspires me to get busy and to get outside. In fall, I can always find an excuse to go fishing, to go for a hike, or just to go outside and soak up the last warm rays for a few months.


Flambéed Pork Chops with Apple, Squash, and Onion Compote

In the fall, I like my food to be a nice transition point between the freshness of summer grilling and the heavy stews and roasts to come. This recipe is adapted from Andreas Vierstad’s fantastic cookbook Kitchen of Light. It’s a simple dish, but the flambéing adds a dramatic touch that makes it suitable for entertaining.

Ingredients

  • 2 frenched pork chops, about 1″ thick
  • 1/2 of a butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 2 apples, cored and chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup of dill-flavored aquavit, such as Gamle Ode
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • 1 match or lighter

About an hour before you’re ready to eat, preheat the oven 375 degrees. Put the butternut squash in a ziploc bag, then pour in about a tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then toss to coat. Place the squash on a baking sheet, then bake for 45 minutes.

Once you have the squash in the oven, remove the pork chops from the refrigerator. Pat them dry, then rub each chop with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 teaspoon thyme. Set aside and allow the chops to come to room temperature.

When the squash is finished baking, begin making the compote. In a large pan with high sides, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook, stirring often, until they have begun to brown and caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the apples, and cook until they have softened, about five more minutes. Mix the squash into the onion and apple mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then turn off the heat and cover.

Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot enough that a splash of water sizzles, add a tablespoon of butter. Add the pork chops. Cook on high heat until the chops are seared on both sides, about two minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then cook for an additional two minutes on either side.

Once you place the chops in the pan, measure out the 1/3 cup of aquavit and have the match or lighter close at hand. When the chops are done, pour the aquavit into the pan, then light it with the match (the flame will really shoot up, so be careful not to drop the match into the pan). Let the flame subside, then transfer the chops to a plate and let them rest for five minutes.

While the chops rest, add a pat of butter to the pan and deglaze, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. Cook another minute, then pour over the chops.

Serve the chops with the compote, rice or potatoes,
and a green salad on the side.

Flambe!

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