Put this in your dinner party rotation. The dish doesn't try too hard, but then brined pork, grappa, prunes, fresh herbs and lemon don't have to.
Serves 4 to 5
For the Brine
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
8 cups water
One 4- to 5-bone center-cut pork loin roast (3 to 5 pounds)
For the Spice Rub
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
10 sage leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Prunes
1 3/4 cups pitted plump prunes
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
2 bay leaves
Pinch of cracked black pepper
1/4 cup grappa
1. To brine the meat, bring the salt, sugar and water to a boil in a large pot, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Transfer to a heatproof container and cool completely.
2. Cover the pork with the brine and refrigerate for 45 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
3. Set an oven rack in the center position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. To make the spice rub, mix together the garlic, fennel seeds, thyme, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper on a cutting board, and finely chop with a chef's knife. Pour the olive oil over the mixture. With your fingers pressing on the side of
the knife, holding the knife at a slight angle, grind the herbs and spices by rocking the knife back and forth and pulling the mixture across the board. (Be careful not to cut yourself; the mixture is slippery.) Alternatively, grind the mixture in a mortar and pestle. The mixture should have the consistency of wet sand.
4. Rub the pork all over with the spice mixture and set in a roasting pan. Roast until the internal temperature registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for medium, between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, depending on size. Let rest for 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the prunes: Combine the prunes, water, sugar, lemon juice, bay leaves, and black pepper in a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer, and simmer until the prunes just start to break apart, about 20 minutes. Add the grappa and simmer for 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and remove from the heat.
6. Slice the pork into chops. Serve topped with the prune sauce.
Excerpted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser. Copyright 2010 Amanda Hesser. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Co.