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sunday dinner: pork chops with onions & apples and spice roasted squash.

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I woke up this morning to the first truly Fall day. The air was crisp and chilly, the sun was bright, the breezes were a-blowin’ and I had a deep, intimate desire to wear flannel. And so I did.

I also had a deep, intimate desire to cook something Fall-ish. Fall-esque. All Fall, all the time. I wanted to put all that crisp and chilly and bright and breezy and flannel-y on a plate. And so I did.

In my family, there were a few ingredients that started to show up regularly as the leaves began to turn — Apples. Onions. Squash. Spices like thyme and bay leaves. And wouldn’t you know it? They all go beautifully together and they all go beautifully with pork, my very favorite protein.

The following recipe will produce a simple, flavorful, and dare I say, elegant, interpretation of the best of Fall’s offerings. It’s hearty and delicious, and save for some extended stove time for the onions and apples, it’s easy to pull off even for the novice cook.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions & Apples

You will need:

1 pork chop per person, about ¾ – 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons butter
2 large red onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 apples (fuji, honey crisp or gala are great), cut into ¼ inch matchsticks
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup apple cider (you can also use white wine, beer, or chicken stock)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spice Roasted Squash

1 acorn or carnival squash, cut into 1-inch thick wedges (this will serve up to 4 people, double the recipe if you are serving a bigger crowd)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen tools: cast iron skillet or sauté pan, baking sheet, kitchen tongs, kitchen timer

Most of the prep for this dish is remarkably easy and comes together very quickly. The onions and apples will take the most time, so let’s start there.

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After you’ve sliced your onions and apples, heat a skillet or sauté pan on medium heat until hot. Add the butter and stir until melted. Next, add the onions and apples, the thyme, and the bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid half way and set a timer for 35 minutes. Don’t fully walk away from the stove — you’ll need to stir your onion/apple mixture every few minutes to ensure they don’t burn, but it’s a pretty low maintenance gig.

While your onions and apples are cooking, you can get to prepping your squash.

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Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Slice your squash in half (this will take a good chef’s knife and some muscle, so don’t be shy) and using a sharp-edged spoon, scoop out the seeds and inner flesh. You could save the squash innards and probably find a million recipes on pinterest for ‘delicious roasted squash seeds!’ but ain’t nobody got time for that…says the girl who hand braided the lattice on this pie.

Anyhoo, toss the innards unless you’re going to make Pinterest magic, and slice the squash into wedges that are about 1-inch thick. Throw ‘em in a big bowl and add the olive oil, brown sugar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Using your trusty kitchen tongs (I could seriously write an ode to mine; they are hands down my favorite kitchen utensil) toss the squash wedges with the oil and spices until thoroughly coated on all sides. If you don’t have tongs, you can use two forks or spoons, but I wouldn’t use your hands given the addition of the cayenne.

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Spread your squash evenly on a baking sheet, and when your oven is ready, cook for 30 minutes, turning once at the halfway point.

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They are done when the squash is golden brown and you can easily pierce them with a fork. Remove from the oven and set aside, covering with a large piece of tin foil to keep warm.

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By now, your onions and apples should have hit the 30 minute mark and should be cooked down by quite a bit. You’ll probably need to cook them an additional 10 minutes until they are further reduced and starting to brown. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.

At this point, add the balsamic vinegar and stir to incorporate, making sure to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring often, until the balsamic is reduced and the onions/apples are a rich purply-brown color. Turn off the stove and remove from the heat; set aside to cool slightly.

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We’re in the home stretch now and all we need to do is cook the pork. Remove your pork chops from the refrigerator and set out on a plate for a few minutes, seasoning generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Wipe out the sauté pan you used to cook the onions and apples and heat a tablespoon of olive oil on high heat until the oil shimmers.

Add the pork and cook for three minutes, then flip and cook an additional three minutes (the easiest way to do this is to set a timer and DON’T TOUCH your pork during this time, it’s the best way to get a good sear). Add the cider to the pan with the pork and a few big spoonfuls of the onion/apple mixture. Cook pork for an additional five minutes, then flip and cook for another two minutes.

Remove pork from the pan to a serving platter and pour the pan sauce over the top. Top with more of the onion/apple mixture, and dish up the squash along side. Serve immediately.

It will be as if Fall exploded in your kitchen. This meal is spicy and tangy and rich and earthy and positively cozy. Enjoy it with your favorite red wine or craft beer and savor what is simply the best of Fall on a plate. You can wear some flannel too, if you’d like. You know I did.

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