ONE FOR THE TABLE: Fall is for roasting
What cooking method is more primal than roasting? When humans first used fire to prepare food, it was by roasting over an open pit. Today we simulate this method of indirect cooking in the oven, achieving the best taste by concentrating flavors, retaining interior moisture, and creating a beautiful brown exterior. In gastronomy, this caramelization is known as the Maillard reaction, which is the basic chemical reaction all food undergoes when cooked. But the cavepeople didn't care how sugars reacted with amino acids; all they knew was that fire made things taste good.
In the fall, I roast almost anything: chicken, beef, pork, vegetables. One of my favorite childhood memories is eating my Aunt Kathy's crown roast, where the entire bone-in pork resembles a crown after the bones are trimmed and the loin is pinned or tied to create a circle. Since then, I've never forgotten how elegant a pork dinner can be.
Now the tenderloin is my favorite cut of pork for many reasons. It's not only lean and flavorful but it's also inexpensive and easy to work with. Either roasted whole in the oven or cut into medallions and seared in a pan, the tenderloin is, as its name implies, tender. And the best part is, because there's no bone to deal with, the meat cooks very quickly, making it a great choice for weeknight family dinners.
In this recipe the tenderloin is marinated in a wonderful combination of thyme, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and mustard. Thyme, a preferred herb for roasting, brings out the best flavors in the meat.
Nothing makes a better accompaniment to roasted meat than roasted vegetables. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, potatoes, pumpkins and squashes all taste better after roasting at high heat. Simply toss cubed vegetables in salt, pepper and oil before roasting, and all the earthy flavors will be there in the finished product. Sometimes pumpkins and squashes are improved by a bit of sweet. Butternut squash, one of the most popular vegetables for roasting, is enhanced by a bit of brown sugar and maple syrup. I add a palmful of sage halfway through the roasting process to add another layer of earthiness and pungency.
Special instruction: The pork tenderloin can be roasted on the same pan as the squash. Add the pork after the squash has roasted for 20 minutes. That way, the squash and the pork will finish at the same time.
Lemon-Thyme-Marinated Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)
1 lemon, zested and juiced