By the time that Christmas Eve rolls around, many people are "turkey-ed out." The last thing that they want to do is spend most of their holiday afternoon in the kitchen wondering if the 24 pound bird in the oven will ever reach the correct internal temperature. Over the years, my family has not had a standard Christmas Eve dinner entree; sometimes we had ham, sometimes roast beef, and I think we even tried lobster one year. Keeping with this tradition of not having a tradition (Is changing menus every year a tradition??), last year I decided that I wanted to serve a roast pork loin for Christmas Eve, so I set out to find the perfect recipe. Well, let me tell you, I found it!
This is the most delicious pork roast that I have ever prepared. The flavor combinations are very unique, but they fit together so well. The sweetness of the fig jam is a perfect complement to the crispy, salty pancetta and the juicy herb encrusted pork. The recipe is great to serve for a big holiday dinner, as it makes enough for 12 people, but you can easily cut it in half for a smaller number of servings. When I roast the pork, I like to throw an assortment of root vegetables in the roasting pan (see picture below), to turn into an easy side dish. Try using an assortment of sweet potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, sliced fennel, shallots, onions, or parsnips. Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stir them occasionally so that they roast evenly. Try to restrain yourself from picking the crispy roasted pancetta off of the top of the pork prior to serving--not an easy thing to do! Use any leftover fig jam and pork to made some great sandwiches the next day. Here are my recipe tips and comments:
- Pancetta is Italian cured bacon and is usually available at your deli counter. Make sure that you ask that it is sliced thin when ordering.
- Black Mission figs (named because they were brought to California by Spanish missionaries) are usually shelved near the raisins at most supermarkets.
- For the best flavor, start marinated the pork in the herb mixture the day before cooking. I recommend using the fresh sage and rosemary, but you can substitute 2 teaspoons dried thyme for the fresh.
- This recipe would also work for pork tenderloins, but you will need to adjust the roasting time down (approx. 40-45 minutes, depending on size). The internal temperature should still be 145F degrees when you remove it from the oven. The internal temperature will rise another 5 degrees while it rests on the platter.
- The fig jam can be made 1 week ahead. Cover it and refrigerate and bring to room temperature prior to serving.
- Because the fig jam recipe calls for so much wine, I do not recommend using something from your "reserve" collection! I used a bottle that sold for less that $6 and it did not compromise the flavor at all. Save the good Bordeaux to drink with the meal!
Pancetta Wrapped Herb-Roasted Pork with Fig Jam
Ingredients for jam:
4 cups dry red wine
3 cups water
48 dried figs (about 12 ounces) stemmed and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
Ingredients for pork:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Two 3 1/2 pound boneless pork loin roasts, tied to hold their shape
3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
Prepare jam: Bring all of the jam ingredients to a boil in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Boil the mixture until thickened and reduced to 4 cups, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Transfer the jam to a large bowl and cool completely.
Prepare pork: Using on/off turns, puree the olive oil, sage, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a mini food processor until almost smooth. Place the pork in a heavy roasting pan. Rub the herb mixture over both roasts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Sprinkle the pork generously with salt and pepper. Place the pancetta slices atop the pork, overlapping if necessary. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the pork registers 145F degrees, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the pork roasts to a platter; remove strings and let stand for 15-30 minutes before carving. Serve the pork with the fig jam.